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China and Taiwan Leaders Exchange Letters for First Time

China's President Hu Jintao has sent his Taiwan counterpart Ma Ying-jeou a telegram, applauding his election as ruling party chief. The letter was the first direct communication between the leaders of the two governments in 60 years.

Ma Ying-jeou's Nationalist Party says that in addition to congratulating Mr. Ma on his election as party chairman, Mr. Hu on Monday expressed hope the Communist Party can work with the Nationalists and promote peaceful relations between the two sides.

In his 73-word telegram, Mr. Hu also said he hoped the two parties could build more trust in political affairs. Mr. Ma responded by sending his own letter, urging Beijing and Taipei to continue efforts to build peace across the Taiwan Strait and rebuild regional stability.

Ties between Taiwan and China have long been difficult. China claims sovereignty over Taiwan, which has been separately governed since the Communists won the Chinese civil war in 1949 and the Nationalists fled to the island.

Usually the two sides communicate through semiofficial channels. This is the first direct, publicly released communication between leaders in Beijing and Taipei in six decades.

In his telegram, China's president simply called the Taiwanese leader Mr. Ma, an apparent attempt to avoid touching on the sensitive issue of sovereignty.

Lin Chong-pin is a former vice-chairman of Taiwan's top policy-making body for relations with China. He says the exchange of letters is an extension of the goodwill that has been building since Mr. Ma was elected last year.

"It's a continuation of the trend which began last year" Lin said. Of course, for Ma Ying-jeou it was the first time. Nothing surprising, however, like everybody has conjectured it has increased the probability of the two meeting face to face as heads of the two parties in 2012 before Hu Jintao leaves his position."

Lin says he thinks the two want to meet so that they can both receive a Nobel Peace Prize for their effort. He adds, however, that 2012 is a long way off and much could happen between now and then, on either side of Taiwan Strait, to disrupt such an effort.

Since Mr. Ma was elected president in May 2008, on pledges to open more trade with China and put aside politics, the two sides have signed landmark trade and transit deals.

Mr. Ma's election as the head of the Nationalists and Mr. Hu's telegram appeared to help boost Taiwan's stocks on Monday. The main index ended above 7,000 points for the first time in 11 months.