China's new top negotiator plans first Taiwan visit

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China's top negotiator with Taiwan Chen Deming is expected to visit the island before year-end in his first trip to Taipei since taking office earlier this year, officials said Wednesday.

Chen, who was commerce minister from December 2007 to March 2013, was inaugurated in April as president of China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS), which handles exchanges with Taiwan in the absence of official contacts.

Officials at ARATS's Taiwanese counterpart, the Straits Exchange Foundation, confirmed they were arranging Chen Deming's visit.

"Chen is likely to visit late November or early December," said spokesman Maa Shaw-chang.

"Given his background as the former commerce minister, his first visit will centre on some things related to bilateral economic and trade exchanges," Maa said.

The spokesman said Chen may visit Taiwan's science-based industrial parks, harbours and local businesses, but a detailed itinerary has yet to be finalised.

Taiwan's Kuomintang government has been struggling to secure parliament's approval of a controversial trade pact with China.

Under the agreement signed in June, China will open 80 of its service sectors to Taiwanese companies, while Taiwan will in turn allow Chinese investment in 64 service sectors.

Taiwan's government said the pact will benefit the economy, but it is strongly opposed by the opposition who fear the pact will hurt smaller service companies and cost many Taiwanese their jobs.

The pact is one of the follow-up agreements to the sweeping Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement signed in 2010 to reduce trade barriers.

China still considers Taiwan part of its territory awaiting reunification, even though the two sides split back in 1949 at the end of a civil war.

But relations have warmed since Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang party came to power in 2008 on a platform of strengthening trade and tourism links. He was re-elected in January 2012.