China, Taiwan sign medical deal during talks

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Top envoys from China and Taiwan signed a deal on medical cooperation and discussed investment protection during talks Tuesday in Taipei, capping a year of unprecedented progress between the former rivals.

"Regular talks between the two sides guarantee peace and prosperity in the Taiwan Strait and the region," Taiwan's chief delegate Chiang Pin-kung said at the start of the meeting at one of the city's main hotels.

Sitting across from Chiang was China's Chen Yunlin, who arrived on Monday for what appears to have become a traditional year-end trip to the island.

Outside the venue small groups protested before being removed by police, highlighting the fact that the warming of ties is far from universally welcomed on the island of 23 million.

Both negotiators represent quasi-official bodies in charge of direct contacts since the two sides have no formal relations.

"I believe more and more Taiwan people will support negotiations between our two associations," Chen said.

Anti-China protesters had vowed to follow Chen "every step of the way" during his three-day visit to the island, and about 10 gathered outside the hotel Tuesday.

Police, citing the need to allow the hotel to operate normally, in the end linked hands and circled the group of protesters, taking them to a waiting van amid minor scuffling.

At the meeting table, the two delegations discussed the need for a future agreement on investment protection.

"To further improve the investment environment, we made certain progress and will continue to work in the field and sign an agreement soon," said Zheng Lizhong, a member of the Chinese delegation.

Taiwan has been a major investor in China in recent years, providing more than 100 billion US dollars in financing, according to some estimates, as well as crucial technological know-how.

The talks Tuesday also focused on epidemic-control measures and joint research and development of medicines, herbal medicines and emergency treatment, Taiwanese officials said.

At the end of the discussions, the two sides signed an agreement on cooperation in the health field, which has become an area of increased importance given more frequent interaction.

Taiwan and China have been governed separately since the end of a civil war in 1949, but Beijing still considers the island part of its territory and has vowed to bring about reunification even if it means war.

Despite this underlying tension, and a continued Chinese military build-up, the two sides have seen significant progress since 2008 after the election in Taiwan of the China-friendly politician Ma Ying-jeou as president.

Ma has pursued a programme of steadily increasing economic ties, culminating with the signing in June of a sweeping framework agreement for trade.

Ma's administration has also actively promoted tourism between the two sides, partly to boost economic exchanges, and partly in hopes of fostering goodwill at the people-to-people level.

Both sides agreed Tuesday to increase the daily quota of Chinese visitors from 3,000 to 4,000 from January 1 to "boost the tourism effect" and allow individual Chinese tourists to visit Taiwan next year.

"I hope individual Chinese tourists can come as early as possible... and no later than the first half of next year," said Chiang, the Taiwanese delegate.