• Thu
  • Dec 25, 2014
  • Updated: 9:47am
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 January, 2014, 4:22am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 January, 2014, 4:22am

Nanjing talks will take cross-straits ties to next level

First-ever meeting between top two officials lifts hopes for Ma's long-sought presidential summit

All eyes in Taiwan will be on landmark talks in Nanjing next month between the island's Mainland Affairs Council chairman Wang Yu-chi and his mainland counterpart Zhang Zhijun from the Taiwan Affairs Office.

It will be the first time since the end of the civil war in 1949 that officials from the two former rivals will talk face to face in their official capacities and any remarks and actions from Wang will be closely scrutinised back home.

The pressure on Wang is inevitably intense, especially as the talks could usher an even more significant meeting between the Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou and the mainland leader Xi Jinping , talks Ma is eager to achieve before his second term in office ends in two years' time.

"My visit will be based on the principles of equality and dignity that have long been our government's stance in dealing with cross-strait interactions," Wang said at a news conference yesterday, giving details of his four-day trip to the mainland.

"I will say what should be said on the appropriate occasions during my mainland visit," Wang said, rejecting criticism that his visit could undermine Taiwan's sovereignty.

Wang will lead a 20-member delegation to Nanjing on February 11 composed of officials from his council, the island's top organisation formulating policy on relations with the mainland. He will hold talks with Zhang later that same day.

He will also visit the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum in Nanjing and attend a seminar in Shanghai before returning home on February 14.

Wang said that during the talks he would bring such issues as setting up representative offices on the mainland and Taiwan, allowing humanitarian visits by family members of Taiwanese imprisoned or held in detention on the mainland and securing medical care for Taiwanese students studying there.

He stressed the aim of the meeting was to create regular contact between his council and the mainland's Taiwan Affairs Office, a step that Ma has said would be inevitable if the two sides were to further improve ties.

Ma was first elected president in 2008 adopting a policy of engaging Beijing to thaw long, frosty relations and it has taken him more than five years to secure these talks.

Ma has said the meeting between Wang and Zhang was "an important step towards upgrading cross-strait relations''.

Wang's predecessor Lai Shin-yuan had long hoped to have face-to-face dialogue with her counterpart Wang Yi , but before she stepped down the only mainland territories she had visited were Hong Kong and Macau.

Wang Yi also gave up his dream of visiting Taiwan before stepping down as Taiwan Affairs Office director last year, but his hope that his successor Zhang would visit the island will soon be realised.

After Wang visits the mainland, Zhang will pay a reciprocal visit to Taiwan, although a date has yet to be set.

In the event that the two top officials do start to meet regularly, the media and experts in Taiwan have begun asking whether the two bodies that have overseen ties between the two sides will still be needed.

The organisations are Taipei's Straits Exchange Foundation and Beijing's Association for Relations across the Taiwan Straits, both set up in early 1990s to represent their respective governments in talks in the absence of formal ties.

With Wang and Zhang able to meet in person, it appears the importance and purpose of the two bodies may fade in time. Wang, however, said yesterday the two organisations would remain in place for the time being as the negotiating bodies for the two sides.

All in all, next month's talks are a remarkable breakthrough in political contact between the two sides and further contact should help increase understanding between the people of the mainland and Taiwan, paving the way for the cross-strait political dialogue so long wanted by Beijing.

lawrence.chung@scmp.com

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