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May 28, 2017

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Taipei, Beijing reach historic pacts

The trip will make Chen the most senior Chinese official to visit Taiwan.

His predecessor Wang Daohan, former top negotiator of Beijing, accepted an invitation to visit the island a decade ago but the journey never materialize due to the souring of relations between the two sides.

Officials at the government's policy-making Mainland Affairs Council said they welcome the visit of Chen because he will help complete "the unfinished journey" of Wang.

About 600 mainland tourists as well as Chinese officials would be among the first passengers on the direct flights on July 4, media reports said.

Six airlines from each side were authorized to operate the routes while the number of flights was expected to increase to 72 after the Beijing Olympics in August.

Except for national holidays, people wanting to travel the less than 200 kilometers (120 miles) from the mainland currently have to make a stopover in Hong Kong or Macau or other places.

As many as 3,000 Chinese tourists a day would be allowed to fly to Taiwan.

Among other major issues, Chiang also told reporters that Taiwan had proposed "the common exploration for gas in the Taiwan Strait."

"While a lot of people are concerned about global climate change, we want to use exchanges and talks to include joint exploration," he told reporters.

Chiang said the Chinese had asked for Taiwanese expertise on earthquake reconstruction and had reiterated their wish to offer Taiwan some pandas.

The talks resumed as part of a dramatic warming in relations that began with the election of Ma as Taiwan's president in March.

Ma and his Kuomintang party swept to power promising closer ties with China, following eight years of tensions across the strait as his predecessor Chen Shui-bian tried to steer the island closer toward independence.

Ma expressed the hope that the weekend charter flights can be upgraded to regular direct flights on normal days in the future.

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