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China, Taiwan in first talks since 1949

Taipei, Feb. 11: Representatives of Taiwan and China held their first official talks today since the end of China’s civil war in 1949, a meeting expected to produce few concrete results but one that marked a symbolic development in the easing of the two sides’ longtime rivalry.

The setting was a resort hotel in the Chinese city of Nanjing, which was at times the capital of Chiang Kai-shek’s Republic of China before its government fled to Taiwan after being defeated by Mao Zedong’s Communist forces.

“Before today’s meeting, it was hard to imagine that cross-strait relations could get to this point,” said Wang Yu-chi, head of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council.

The improved ties were “hard earned through efforts of generations”, said Zhang Zhijun, head of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, according to the state-run Xinhua news service. “We should cherish it and work together to maintain this favourable momentum.”

China considers Taiwan to be a part of its territory that must eventually be reunited.

In 1995 and 1996, it fired missiles into waters around Taiwan ahead of its first democratic presidential election, and it regularly denounced Chen Shui-bian, Taiwan’s independent-leaning President.

Following the 2008 election of President Ma Ying-jeou, who favours closer ties with the mainland, Beijing has taken a more conciliatory approach. Cross-strait trade has nearly doubled over the course of Ma’s presidency, reaching $197 billion last year.

Nearly three million Chinese travelled to Taiwan last year, constituting the largest single group of visitors following Taiwan’s easing of restrictions on mainland arrivals starting in 2008.

The two sides signed a landmark trade agreement, the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, in 2010.

Those negotiations were carried out by semi-official bodies: Taiwan’s Straits Exchange Foundation and China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits. A follow-up agreement to the trade accord that lifts barriers on cross-strait trade in services has been held up in Taiwan’s legislature.

Until now, representatives of China and Taiwan have met only through unofficial organisations or through retired officials, as Beijing has resisted any steps that might be seen as recognising Taiwan’s sovereignty. Today’s talks focused on ways to improve and formalise communications between the two sides. The two sides discussed trade and Taiwan’s participation in regional economic agreements. Wang also raised consular-type visits to Taiwanese detained on the mainland and health insurance for Taiwanese students studying in China and fair treatment of Taiwanese journalists working there, the Mainland Affairs Council said.

 
 
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