BEIJING (AP) — The chairman of Taiwan's ruling Nationalist party, a likely candidate for the island's presidency in next year's election, will meet with Communist Party leaders during a visit to China next month as the former bitter enemies continue their two decade-old rapprochement.
Eric Chu will lead a party delegation to attend a forum on relations across the Taiwan Strait in Shanghai on May 3, the two sides announced Friday.
Taiwan's Central News Agency said Chu will hold talks with Chinese President and Communist Party Secretary-General Xi Jinping in Beijing the following day, although the sides have yet to formally announce such a meeting.
China's Taiwan Affairs Office said Chu would meet in Shanghai with unidentified Communist Party leaders to discuss inter-party exchanges and overall cross-strait relations.
"This is an important event in Nationalist-Communist high-level exchanges," spokesman Li Xiaoguang said in a brief statement.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei confirmed Chu would visit Beijing after Shanghai, but offered no further details.
The Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek were driven to Taiwan by Mao Zedong's Communists during a civil war in 1949, leading to decades of hostility between the sides.
Relations began to warm in the 1990s, partly out of their common opposition to Taiwan's formal independence from China, a position advocated by the self-governing island republic's main opposition Democratic Progressive Party.
Improved ties led to a 2005 meeting between then-party leaders Lien Chan and Hu Jintao in Beijing. Elected to the party post in January, Chu would be the third Nationalist chairman to visit China and the first since 2008.
The Nationalists face a difficult presidential election next January in which Chu, currently the mayor of New Taipei City, is considered the party's likely candidate.
Beijing considers Taiwan to be Chinese territory to be brought under its control by force if necessary, although it ruled the island for just four of the past 110 years.
That prospect has grown increasingly unpopular on the island, especially with younger voters, and opposition to the Nationalists' pro-China policies was seen as a driver behind heavy local electoral defeats for the party last year that led to the resignation of the previous chairman, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou.
Friction between the sides has also arisen over Taiwan's hope for inclusion in a Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Taiwan had wanted to join as a charter member, but Beijing indicated that issues surrounding Taiwan's membership still need to be hammered out, especially the question of what name it should be referred to by.
Chinese pressure forces Taiwan to participate in international sporting competitions and other events as "Chinese Taipei," the name suggested by Ma when he proposed the island's membership in the bank. However, Beijing appears to have rejected that suggestion.