Ma confidant Vincent Siew set to meet Xi Jinping at Boao forum
Meeting between president and Taiwan's former vice-premier likely on sidelines of Boao forum, an important venue for cross-strait dealings
The 2013 Boao Forum for Asia opening in Hainan tomorrow is set to be the venue for a new round of high-level cross-strait interaction.
Former Taiwanese vice-president Vincent Siew Wan-chang is expected to meet President Xi Jinping tomorrow on the sidelines of the annual regional forum, just a month after the mainland completed its leadership transition, officials said.
Siew will lead a high-powered delegation to Boao today for the three-day regional forum, which has become an important platform for cross-strait policy dialogue over the years, officials and analysts said.
The highly anticipated meeting - more or less a replica of one between Siew and president Hu Jintao in 2008 - will offer clues as to how Taipei and Beijing can strengthen mutual trust and increase mutual economic benefits, analysts said.
Chan Hou-sheng, chairman of the Taipei-based Cross-strait Common Market Foundation, said Siew and his 50-member delegation of business leaders, senior retired officials and academics would be welcomed at the airport in Haikou today by Zhang Zhijun , the new director of the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office. The foundation, established by Siew in 2001, has represented Taiwan at every forum since 2003.
Chan said Siew had been told to leave his schedule blank tomorrow, while Taiwanese media quoted a forum organiser as saying "an arrangement would be made" for a meeting between Siew and Xi.
He said a round-table conference for cross-strait business leaders would be held on Sunday with former Taiwanese finance minister Lee Shu-der and the former chairman of the Taipei-based Straits Exchange Foundation, Chiang Pin-kung.
Thirteen heads of state and political leaders from the region are expected to attended this year's forum, under the theme of "Asia Seeking Development for All: Restructuring, Responsibility and Co-operation". The Hainan Island city has hosted the forum since 2002.
"The forum has become a highly significant venue for meetings between leaders from both sides of the Taiwan Strait since 2008," Chan said in Taipei yesterday. Taiwan's vice-president, Wu Den-yih, met Li Keqiang , then still vice-president, at the Boao forum last year.
Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou said on Tuesday that the forum offered the two sides of the Taiwan Strait a chance to boost exchanges.
In a meeting with Siew and other delegates at the Presidential Office, Ma underlined the significance of the forum becoming a platform for meetings between high-ranking officials from the two sides.
"It is very meaningful for Taiwan to attend the regional event at this moment, when the mainland has just completed a transition of power and is undergoing an economic transformation," Ma said.
"The forum will give us updated information on the mainland's latest developments."
Ma is unable to attend the event due to the two sides' fundamental differences dating back to the end of the 1949 civil war, when the defeated Kuomintang retreated to the island.
Relations have improved dramatically since Ma became the island's president in 2008 and adopted a policy of engaging the mainland, with 18 non-political co-operation agreements signed by the two sides.
However, the Ma government has rejected repeated calls from Beijing for political dialogue.
Analysts agreed the Boao forum was a good venue for leaders from both sides to meet face to face.
"Although Siew stepped down as vice-president last year, he has remained a highly trusted partner of Ma and can best represent the president's thoughts at an important venue like Boao," said Tung Cheng-yuan, a professor at the Graduate Institute of Development Studies at National Chengchi University in Taipei.
Tung, a former vice-chairman of the island's policy-setting Mainland Affairs Council, said Ma was likely to take more note of the feedback from Siew's meeting with Xi than from former Kuomintang chairman Lien Chan's meeting with Xi in his capacity as Communist Party general secretary in February.
Taiwanese media report that Ma and Lien don't see eye to eye on various matters, although both have denied that this is the case.
Xi, who invited Lien to Beijing, reportedly assured him he would follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Hu, and promote the peaceful development of cross-strait relations, but also wanted to speed up progress towards political talks.
Chang Wu-yueh, director of the Graduate Institute of China Studies of Tamkang University in Taipei, said that when Siew attended the 2008 forum as vice-president-elect, he had Ma's "acknowledgement and authorisation" to present a proposal that the two sides "look at reality, explore the future [and] shelve disputes" while looking for mutually beneficial opportunities.