Talks in Nanjing herald new era of closer relations

First inter-government meeting sees Beijing and Taipei set up direct link for future discussions

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 February, 2014, 11:51am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 February, 2014, 4:49pm

Taiwan and the mainland opened a new chapter of cross-strait relations yesterday following the first ever official government-to-government talks, which saw the two sides reach consensus on several issues, including the establishment of an official mechanism to communicate issues of mutual concern.

Wang Yu-chi, chairman of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, which charts cross-strait policy, and his mainland counterpart, Zhang Zhijun of the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office, met in Nanjing in their official capacities for the first time.

Watch: China and Taiwan's historic talks

"It's never an easy thing for us to sit at the same table to discuss things," said Wang, while looking back at the development of cross-strait relations from bitter hostility to warming ties over a period of more than six decades.

It’s never an easy thing for us to sit at the same table to discuss things

The two sides had been political rivals since the end of the civil war in 1949, and ties began to improve only after Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang became Taiwan's president in 2008 and opted for a policy to engage Beijing.

Yesterday's meeting also marked the first time a senior Taiwanese official had returned to Nanjing in his official capacity since the KMT government moved its seat from Nanjing to Guangzhou on February 5, 1949.

In their meeting yesterday, Wang was heartened to be addressed by Zhang by his official title, a development Taipei had long hoped for.

In a news conference, Wang said the two sides had agreed to establish direct links between his council and Zhang's office that could help each side resolve disputes and increase understanding in the future.

But Zhang noted the new communication mechanism would not replace existing quasi-government channels - the Straits Exchange Foundation in Taipei and the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits in Beijing.

"They remain as the agencies to represent our two sides in negotiations in the future," Ma Xiaoguang, the Taiwan Affairs Office deputy director, said at a separate news conference. The two bodies, set up in the 1990s, held landmark talks in Singapore in 1993 and have remained proxies of their respective governments since then.

Wang, however, said the agencies would deal with practical issues, while the mechanism between his council and the office would touch on policy issues.

Wang also said the mainland agreed to be more understanding about Taiwan's efforts to join regional economic blocs, "but they hope we develop cross-strait economic links at the same time".

George Tsai Wei, a professor of political science at Chinese Culture University in Taipei, said Taiwan "should not expect too much ... as the mainland is not ready to have full government-to-government contact with Taiwan".

Wang said the two sides also discussed the opening of representative offices on both sides of the strait, with the mainland agreeing to work at finding a solution to Taipei's request for visits by families of Taiwanese who are imprisoned on the mainland.

Wang is to visit the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum in Nanjing and give a speech to students at Nanjing University today.

He will visit Shanghai tomorrow before returning to Taipei on Friday.