TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan is working on setting up a think tank to coordinate contacts with the Chinese military, a Defense Ministry official said Monday, in what would be one of the most significant steps so far in rapidly improving relations between the sides.
The official's comments follow last week's assertion by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao that Beijing is ready to hold talks with Taiwan on political and military issues aimed at ending hostility with the rival island.
Since the inauguration of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou in May, long-standing tensions between Taiwan and China have begun to recede, prompted by Ma's renunciation of his predecessor's pro-independence policies, and his continuing efforts to deepen the island's economic relations with the mainland.
The Taiwanese Defense Ministry official told The Associated Press that the purpose of the new liaison organization would be to build mutual trust with the Chinese military "on a step by step basis." He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject .
"We want to establish a think tank to reduce the unsafe factors in relations between the sides," he said, without elaborating.
He added that the new organization could be part of a research body at a Taiwanese university but said that no final decision had yet been made.
China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949. Beijing continues to see the democratic island as part of its territory and has threatened war if it moves to make their break permanent.
Last month the Taiwanese Cabinet-level body responsible for relations with the mainland said that Beijing had some 1,500 missiles aimed at Taiwanese military and civilian targets — an increase of more than 100 since Ma entered office.
The new president has spoken repeatedly of the need for "confidence building measures" between the Taiwanese and Chinese militaries as a prelude to signing a formal peace treaty.
He has frequently pointed to the existence of Chinese missiles as a significant barrier to better relations.
In a related development, Taiwan's defense minister said Monday that the military wants to phase out conscription starting in 2011, so that all forces would serve on a voluntary basis by 2014.
The comments to the Legislature by Chen Chao-min are in line with existing Defense Ministry plans to slash the size of Taiwan's military from its current level of 275,000.
In remarks last week to the opening session of China's National People's Congress, Wen, the country's premier, said that Beijing was ready to hold talks with Taiwan to "create conditions for ending the state of hostility and concluding a peace agreement."
The remarks were similar to ones made by President Hu Jintao in December.http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5g5nnd5EZUud5r6Ma84EsZxnkiGsQD96QF9F80