Protestors mar top meeting between China and Taiwan

China's top negotiator on Taiwan, Chen Yunlin (pictured), met with Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, to pursue trade negotiations between China and Taiwan, as protesters camped in the streets and accused Ma of selling out to China.


AFP - Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou made history Thursday when he became the island's first leader to meet with a senior Chinese official since the end of a civil war in 1949.

Ma greeted Beijing's senior negotiator on Taiwanese affairs, Chen Yunlin at a government guesthouse in central Taipei amid tight security as rowdy anti-China protests continued outside the venue.

The two men shook hands and exchanged gifts.

Chen, who is Beijing's most senior negotiator on Taiwanese affairs, presented Ma with an ink painting of a horse, as "ma" is Chinese for horse.

In his only comment during the meeting, Chen told Ma: "This is by a master artist."

Ma, who earlier this year became the island's third democratically elected president since 1996, gave Chen a ceramic vase, making no audible comment as he did so.

Ma, referring to the 60 years of hostilities between the two formerly bitter enemies, made a short speech to a room packed with officials and their wives, as well as television cameras and photographers.

Their meeting, which was broadcast live, lasted around five minutes.

Ma said meetings this week between Taiwanese and Chinese officials, which saw the two sides sign a range of economic agreements, "symbolise a major step forward for cross-strait ties."

"The development fits the expectations of the people of both sides and will contribute to cross-strait stability and prosperity," Ma said.

"But we cannot deny that differences and challenges still exist, such as Taiwan's security and Taiwan's position in the international community.

"In the future both sides should see the reality and should not deny each other's existence in order to promote the welfare of the people and cross-strait peace and to resolve our differences," he said.

Chen arrived for a five-day visit on Monday, becoming the most senior Beijing official to step foot on the island since it was estranged from China at the end of the civil war won by Mao Zedong's communists in 1949.

With his local counterpart Chiang Pin-kung he signed four deals aimed at drawing the two sides closer economically, but which have sparked widespread protests from supporters of formal independence for the island.

They agreed to introduce direct cargo shipping and postal services, increase passenger flights and shorten routes across the Taiwan Strait, and cooperate on food safety.

China promised to allow more citizens to visit the island, just 180 kilometres (110 miles) off its eastern coast.

Beijing regards Taiwan as a renegade province and has vowed to retake it with force if necessary, especially if it declares independence.

Not far from the Taipei Guest House where the meeting took place, hundreds of people gathered outside parliament to protest Chen's presence and Ma's policy of forging closer ties with China.

A man who gave his surname as Lo, 52, echoed the fears of many ordinary Taiwanese that the deals will bring profit to big business but see more jobs lost across the Taiwan Strait to China's cheaper labour pool.

"They sell out Taiwan by signing the agreements. The agreements are not bringing any benefit to the people, only to business groups."

Referring to protests that trapped Chen inside a hotel for hours on Wednesday night, Lo, an electronics factory worker, said: "Ma is timid, he changed the meeting schedule because of last night's protests.

"If he couldn't even handle the protests, how can he face (Chinese President) Hu Jintao?"

The protests have been largely organised by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which called on Ma to emphasise Taiwan's independent status to Chen.

Ma said before his meeting with Chen that he had not conceded "an inch of Taiwan's sovereignty so as president I have not made any mistakes."

"The Republic of China is a sovereign, independent country," he said, using the formal name for Taiwan that is the island's way of differentiating from the People's Republic of China.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning