BEIJING (Reuters) - China still wants talks on building military and security trust with Taiwan, a spokesman said on Wednesday, despite Beijing's anger over recent U.S. arms sales to the island.
China has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong's forces won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists fled to the island. Beijing has threatened to attack if Taiwan tries to declare independence.
Following the election of China-friendly Ma Ying-jeou as Taiwan president in 2008, the two sides have signed a series of landmark trade and tourism deals. But military suspicions on both sides remain deep and there has been no progress on political talks.
Relations have strained of late following a U.S. decision earlier this year to sell a new batch of weapons to Taiwan, though China's anger has been directed more at Washington than Taipei.
"We agree with looking at the issue of setting up a military and security mutual trust mechanism for both sides at an appropriate time," Yang Yi, spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, told a regular news briefing.
"This process should progress step by step and in proper order, dealing with the easy first and the hard later.
"For example, it could begin with exchanges between retired military officers and related academics," Yang said, without elaborating.
China has made similar suggestions in the past, but had not repeated them recently.
The island's deputy defence minister, Andrew Yang, told Reuters, though, that Taiwan would not pursue military talks any time soon, since it is focussed on a free trade-style deal and building more overall trust with Beijing.
Military talks are unlikely next year as the island ramps up for the 2012 presidential race, he added.
"There's no policy at the moment, and in the foreseeable future I don't see a chance to go ahead with that," Yang said. "It's not feasible to discuss now. It's too complex."
Premier Wen Jiabao offered last year at the annual meeting of parliament to hold political and military talks with democratic Taiwan and sign a peace agreement with the island. Wen did not repeat the offer at this year's session.
Taiwan says China aims more than 1,000 missiles at it and there has been no sign these are starting to be pulled back, despite a warming of relations.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Ralph Jennings in Taipei; Editing by Ken Wills and Jeremy Laurence