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China, Taiwan wrap up historic talks

Speculation mounts over possible leader's summit as new talks set for next week

China, Taiwan wrap up historic talks

Taiwanese official Wang Yu-chi, center, arrives on Thursday for a tour of the Shanghai Media Group headquarters. China and Taiwan are holding their first official talks in more than six decades (AFP photo/Mark Ralston)

Mhike So, Taipei

February 14, 2014

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Taiwan and China wrapped up four days of high-level talks on Friday, the first since the two rivals split at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, with former vice president Lien Chen due to meet President Xi Jinping in Beijing next week.

Lien, an honorary chairman of Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang party, will discuss issues of mutual interest with Xi during a three-day visit to the Chinese capital starting on Monday under the invitation of the Chinese side, Lien's office said in a statement.

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Minister Wang Yu-chi met his mainland China counterpart, Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) Director Zhang Zhijun, twice during this week's talks: once in Nanjing on Tuesday and again in Shanghai on Thursday.

This historic meeting involving top government officials on both sides is being seen as a major breakthrough and confidence-building exercise which is set to continue with the new talks next week.

Relations between Nationalist Taiwan and Communist China were mainly frosty after the split 65 years ago, with China seeking to isolate its neighbor diplomatically; but recent years have seen a thaw in cross-Strait ties.

China looks upon Taiwan as part of its territory and previous meetings have been more low-key affairs with a heavy emphasis on trade agreements.

“Today’s cross-Strait situation has been hard-earned through the efforts of generations,” the state-run Xinhua news agency reported Zhang as saying at the start of the talks.

“We should cherish it and work together to maintain this favorable momentum,” he said. “We should be determined to avoid any further fluctuations and setbacks.”

Wang hailed the talks as a “new chapter in cross-strait ties”.

Issues discussed and agreed upon by the two sides included a communication mechanism to handle major cross-strait issues. This would include visits by the MAC and TAO chiefs. Both also agreed to grant immigration privileges to each other’s representatives.

Health benefits for exchange students were also discussed.

In their second meeting in Shanghai on Thursday, Wang and Zhang met behind closed doors leading to speculation they may have discussed a possible meeting between Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

In his New Year message Ma said Taiwan needed to end its political stalemate with China to boost economic ties.

According to Dan Ross, a sociology professor at Fujen University in Taipei, these high-level talks come as no surprise given President Ma’s more pro-China stance.

However he added that “there’s more to it than what most people can see, mainly because of the sub-cultural differences between the Taiwanese and the Chinese in mainland China.

Asked if this historic meeting would pave the way for closer Taiwan China relations, Ross said that would depend on many factors.

“It’s a step by step process. China has taken a softer stance on Taiwan lately. Taiwan elections however will come in two years time. If the [independence-leaning] Democratic Progressive Party gets into power, it would be a completely different scenario.”      

Wang and Zhang also met briefly and “unofficially” last year at the APEC summit held in Bali, Indonesia.

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