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China’s President Xi Jinping and the leader of Taiwan’s ruling party, Eric Chu, have held the highest level talks between the two sides in six years.

Nationalist Chairman, Eric Chu, was in Beijing for the meeting, a sign of warming relations between the sides.

Any rapprochement is controversial in Taiwan, which has seen protests over the prospect of closer ties.

Chinese nationalists fled to Taiwan in 1949 after a brutal civil war with the communists.

In the same time, China sees Taiwan as a breakaway province that will ultimately return.China Taiwan talks May 2015

Many Taiwanese oppose reunification and fear that growing economic dependency on Beijing could be the first step towards that outcome, correspondents say.

President Xi Jinping said during the meeting that China and Taiwan should settle political differences through consultation, but with Taiwan’s acceptance that it is part of China, according to Xinhua state news agency. He also said Beijing will make greater efforts to open up to Taiwan and help it to develop economically.

“The two sides can consult with each other on equal basis under the principle of <<one China>>, and reach a reasonable arrangement,” Xi Jinping said.

Taiwan’s Kuomintang (KMT) has seen its popularity decline and protests at home, dubbed the “Sunflower Movement”, over its warming ties with the Chinese Communist Party.

In March last year, hundreds of students occupied parliament for weeks to demonstrate against a trade pact that the KMT signed with China. Thousands rallied on the streets against the mainland.

Eric Chu’s party is nevertheless currently pushing to join China’s new development bank. Taiwan’s initial application to the bank was rejected by Beijing because of the name under which it applied, which implied it was an independent nation.

However, Beijing said it would welcome an application by Taiwan under an “appropriate” name.

The KMT had its worst-ever performance in local elections in November and the President Ma Ying-jeou stepped down as party chief, to be replaced by Eric Chu.

Taiwan is holding the island’s biggest local election, which is widely seen as a referendum on the China policy of the ruling party.

Almost 20,000 candidates are running for more than 11,000 posts on nine levels of government.

Critics say the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party is too close to China, while its supporters say Taiwan needs good relations with its powerful neighbor.

China sees Taiwan as renegade province with which it should be re-united.

Taiwan and China have been ruled separately since the end of a civil war in 1949.

Taiwan only began allowing truly democratic elections – with opposition party candidates and universal suffrage – in the late 1980s.

Polling stations across the island opened at 08:00 local time, with more than 18 million eligible voters registered.

The KMT currently holds the presidency, a legislative majority, and most of Taiwan’s cities and counties, although recent opinion polls have suggested that it risks losing its traditional strongholds such as Taipei and Taichung.

Some voters fear that if the KMT is allowed to continue building strong ties with China, Taiwan may become too economically dependent on the mainland and vulnerable to its pressures to reunify one day.

They distrust the KMT, regardless of whether the deals signed with Beijing are good for Taiwan, our correspondent says.

KMT supporters, on the other hand, feel that Taiwan needs good relations with its biggest trade partner to breath new life into the island’s ailing economy.

They fear a victory by the opposition DPP party could cause relations with China and Taiwan’s economy to regress.

The DPP supports Taiwan’s formal independence from China, something Beijing strongly opposes.

In 2016, Taiwan will hold the more important presidential and legislative polls.

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