China's Hu urges unification with rival Taiwan

October 9, 2011 - 2:50 AM
China Jiang

Chinese President Hu Jintao gives a speech at a conference to commemorate the centennial of the 1911 Revolution that overthrew imperial rule on the mainland, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Sunday Oct. 9, 2011. China's retired President Jiang Zemin has made a rare public appearance at the Beijing ceremony months after speculation that he had died or was close to death. (AP Photo/Minoru Iwasaki, Pool)

BEIJING (AP) — China's president on Sunday used the centennial of a revolution that ended imperial rule to make an appeal to further relations with Taiwan, saying they should move beyond the history that divides them and focus on common economic and cultural interests.

At a ceremony in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Hu Jintao said that China and Taiwan should end antagonisms, "heal wounds of the past and work together to achieve the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation."

"Achieving reunification by peaceful means best serves the fundamental interests of all Chinese, including our Taiwan compatriots," Hu said, adding that the sides should increase economic competitiveness, promote Chinese culture and build on a sense of a common national identity.

President Hu has sought to move beyond the threatening rhetoric that long characterized Beijing's response to Taiwan's refusal to unify with the mainland. His government has talked of ending the state of hostility with Taiwan.

Tensions have also eased as Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou facilitated several trade agreements linking Taiwan's high-tech economy to China's lucrative markets.

On Sunday, a large portrait of the founding father of modern China, Sun Yat-Sen, hung over the stage on which sat current and former top leaders of China including the retired President Jiang Zemin, who made a rare public appearance months after speculation that he was close to death.

The ceremony in Beijing marks the Oct. 10, 1911, armed uprising led by rebels associated with revolutionary leader Sun on a Qing dynasty garrison. The attack set in motion events that led to the overthrow of imperial rule and raised hopes that China could emerge from a century and a half of national humiliation it had endured at the hands of foreign powers.

The Republic of China was established 2 1/2 months later, but its government fled in disarray to Taiwan in 1949 following the victory of Mao Zedong's Communists over Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists in the Chinese civil war.

China regards Taiwan as part of its territory and threatens to invade should it seek formal independence.

In his speech, Hu said Sun was "a great national hero, a great patriot and a great leader of the Chinese democratic revolution." He also said the Communist Party is the "core power" that drives China's success.

Also onstage was the 85-year-old former president Jiang, who was dressed in a dark blue suit and red tie and wore his signature large, square-rimmed glasses. His hair was slicked back as usual but was obviously thinning, and he appeared at times to be tired as he sat listening to speeches with his hands on the table in front of him.

Jiang's failure to appear at a celebration of the 90th anniversary of the ruling Communist Party's founding in July sparked intense online speculation that he had died. While the rumors were suppressed on the mainland, they were widely reported in Hong Kong, the semiautonomous Chinese territory that's promised Western-style civil liberties, including freedom of speech.

The Chinese government dismissed such reports as rumor. Beijing is very secretive about the health of top leaders and is particularly sensitive ahead of a leadership transition that starts late next year at a major Communist Party congress.

The death of Jiang, a retired but still very influential figure, could cause some of his proteges to shift allegiances, affecting the jockeying for power among China's rising political elites.

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