BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese Premier Li Keqiang aforesaid on Thursday that he was confident of the peaceful growth in dealings with self-ruled Taiwan, an island China claims as its own, expression

it was a historic trend that could not be reversed.

Cross-strait business ties have surged to their most extensive in six decades, supported by the policies of Taiwan's China-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou.

But Taiwan's ruling Nationalist party took a major drubbing in recent local elections largely seen as a referendum on ties with China.

That followed a weeks-long occupation of Taiwan's legislature last spring by students and activists in protest against a trade deal with China.

Speaking at the opening of the annual full session of the National People's Congress, Li made no direct mention of the protests or the Taiwan elections, but said he wished to make progress on relations.

"We will strive to make progress in discussion and dialogue between the two sides of the strait, advance cross-strait economic integration for mutual benefit and promote local and youth exchanges," he said.

"We are firmly confident that the peaceful growth of cross-strait relations is a historical trend that can be neither resisted nor reversed," Li added in his speech, a major policy address for the year ahead.

Taiwan holds presidential elections early next year.

The Nationalists fled across the narrow Taiwan Strait after losing a civil war to the Chinese Communists in 1949. China considers Taiwan a renegade province, and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under Beijing's control.

Proudly democratic Taiwan has shown little interest in wanting to have political talks with China, still ruled with an iron fist by the Communist Party, and there are also deep military suspicions on either side.

China's President Xi Jinping said in 2013 that a political solution for the Taiwan issue could not wait forever.

Li said he both sides should work together to "achieve China's peaceful unification".

"We hope that our compatriots on both sides of the strait will continue to strengthen mutual understanding and trust, deepen their bonds of kinship, bring hearts and minds together," he said.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Alex Richardson)