The first Taiwanese athletes ever to compete in Communist China, a group of high school gymnasts, arrived to a tumultuous welcome in Beijing.

Chinese sports officials, accompanied by more than 100 Chinese, Hong Kong and Taiwan journalists, converged on the 15 smiling but somewhat disoriented-looking young athletes at Beijing Airport today."We're very happy to be here and receive this warm reception,"said Chan Te-chi, head of the Taiwan delegation which will compete in the Asian junior gymnastics championships in Beijing starting Friday.

The trip is the outcome of an agreement signed between Taiwan and China earlier this month after secret negotiations in Hong Kong.

The agreement allows Taiwan athletes to compete in China under the name Chinese Taipei. Taiwan also plans to participate in next year's Asian games in Beijing and 10 other international sports events in China later this year.

"I'm very happy, this is very exciting," said 17-year-old Chen Han-ting. Asked what he thought about being the first athlete to represent Taiwan in China, he said it was "great."

Chuang Hsiu-shih, chairman of the Chinese Taipei Gymnastics Council and one of 12 officials accompanying the group, said now that the channel to China was opened, "the next step will be for a Chinese delegation to come to Taipei to perform." He said he anticipated more visits from the mainland to Taiwan in the near future.