TAIPEI - Taiwan has relaxed rules for Chinese media, long regarded as spy organizations for the Communist government, as relations warm between the two long-time political rivals, officials said on Wednesday.

Effective immediately, Chinese media, which include state-run giants such as Xinhua News Agency and China Central Television, can increase staff from two to five people apiece and travel to any part of Taiwan or its outlying islands, officials said.

They can go to any part of Taiwan to gather news, not like before when they had to notify us, said Chao Chien-min, a vice chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, the Taiwan government's China policy-making body.

We are a free media environment, Chao told reporters. Mainland China media are behind and we have a lot of experience we can share with them for their reference.

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 (KMT) fled to the island. Beijing has vowed to bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary.

Since taking office last year, China-friendly Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou has sought to improve relations.

Anyone who was sent here was once suspected as a spy, said Shane Lee, a political scientist at Chang Jung University in Taiwan. Of course, the government is considering the overall picture. They've decided to open to China in all fields.

Ma's government earlier let Xinhua and the People's Daily return to Taiwan after a suspension and lengthened the maximum stays for Chinese reporters from three to six months.

Seven Chinese media are stationed on the island.

But in Beijing, where Taiwan media face restrictions on travel, lengths of stay and even what they can report, an official hedged on saying whether their rules would be loosened.

Setting up bureaus on either side is an objective need for developing cross-strait relations, Fan Liqing, spokeswoman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, told a regular news conference. With hard work by both sides, it will be accomplished soon.

(Reporting by Ralph Jennings; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing, Editing by Ron Popeski)