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China and Taiwan hold landmark talks

Photo: AFP

China and Taiwan begin their highest-level talks since their acrimonious split 65 years ago on Tuesday – a symbolic yet historic move that marks the first official contact between the rivals.


The Taiwanese government's Wang Yu-chi (pictured above), who oversees the island's China policy, is meeting his Chinese counterpart Zhang Zhijun for a week of talks beginning on Tuesday.

The meeting in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing comes after years of strained efforts from both countries to normalise relations, decades after their split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.

That year, two million supporters of the nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan after losing the civil war to Mao Zedong's Communists.

Ever since, the island and the mainland have been governed separately, both claiming to be the true government of China, only re-establishing contact in the 1990s through quasi-official organisations.

While no official agenda has been released for the talks – widely seen as a symbolic, trust-building exercise – Taiwan's Wang last month said they had "crucial implications for further institutionalisation of ties between the two sides”.


The election in 2008 of President Ma Ying-jeou in Taiwan, who comes from the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang party, has seen a marked softening in tone from Taipei towards China.

In June 2010, the two countries signed the landmark Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, a pact widely characterised as the boldest step yet towards reconciliation.

Nonetheless, Taipei and Beijing had until now shunned any official direct contact; negotiations since 2008 have been carried out through proxies.

While these proxies – the quasi-official Straits Exchange Foundation representing Taiwan and the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits for China – have achieved economic progress, they lack the power to broach deeper-held differences.

Taiwan is expected to focus on reaping practical outcomes from this week’s talks, such as securing economic benefits or security assurances, while China has one eye on long-term integration of the island, analysts say.

Beijing views Taiwan as a rebel region awaiting reunification with the mainland, and has repeatedly refused to renounce the possibility of using force to take back the island if necessary.

‘Potential not yet tapped’

Analysts say that only government-level officials can settle the crux of the lingering sovereignty dispute.

The upcoming meeting will be watched closely to see whether it could pave the way for talks between Ma and his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping – although chances of that happening anytime soon appear to be slim.

"The current interaction across the Taiwan Strait is quite positive," Jia Qingguo, a professor of international studies at Peking University told AFP. “But the potential of this relationship has not been fully tapped. People should not expect too much out of it. It will take time for the two sides to get really integrated."

The mood surrounding the talks has already somewhat soured in Taiwan after Beijing refused to issue credentials to the Taipei-based Apple Daily and the US government-funded Radio Free Asia on the weekend.

Taiwan said on Monday it would raise the issue of press freedom with China during the talks.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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