A mainland government adviser's visit to Taipei this week for talks with the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party marked the start of reciprocal contact between Beijing and the pro-independence party.
Economist Wu Jinglian , a senior research fellow at the State Council's Development Research Centre, visited the DPP headquarters just a month after a landmark visit to Beijing by former DPP chairman Frank Hsieh Chang-ting, during which he sought to build ties between the mainland and the DPP.
Wu visited a DPP think tank at the party's Taipei headquarters on Wednesday.
Taiwanese pundits said yesterday that given Wu's official status, his meeting at the DPP headquarters signalled a change in cross-strait policy by Beijing, with such exchanges no longer taboo. Hailed as the conscience of mainland economics for his steady push for economic reform, Wu is also a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and deputy director of its economic committee.
Joseph Wu Jau-shieh, director of the DPP's policy co-ordination department and a former head of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, confirmed Wu Jinglian had visited DPP headquarters.
"We had talks for more than an hour, mostly on economic issues facing China," Joseph Wu said, adding he would rather describe it as an "academic exchange" than an exchange between the Communist Party and the DPP.
DPP China affairs department director Hung Tsai-lung said the economist was a respected scholar, well-versed in the mainland's economic reforms. He said Wu Jinglian was accompanied by Hong Chi-chang, a former chairman of Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation during the presidency of the DPP's Chen Shui-bian. The semi-official foundation represents the island in talks with the mainland.
The Taipei Forum Foundation - a think tank started by Su Chi, a former secretary general of Taiwan's National Security Council - had invited Wu Jinglian to visit Taipei to attend a seminar on the economy.
Asked if any mainland official had visit the DPP before, Hung said that as far as he knew, no mainland official or senior semi-official scholar from a mainland think tank had visited the party since 2000, when Chen won his first term as the island's president. He said many scholars from mainland think tanks had met DPP officials before that, but never on DPP premises.
Although the DPP stressed that Wu Jinglian's visit had nothing to do with formal exchanges between the Communist Party and the DPP, Professor Tung Li-wen, an expert in cross-strait relations at Taiwan's National Police University, said a visit to the DPP's headquarters could represent a change in Beijing's policy with regards to the pro-independence party.
He said mainland scholars used to be extremely low-key when meeting DPP officials and would not have wanted to make news of such meetings public.
Former DPP legislator Lin Cho-shui said Beijing must have given its consent to Wu Jinglian's visit. "It is worth watching whether this could herald regular exchanges between the DPP and the mainland in the future."
Lin said Beijing had become more flexible since the Kuomintang's mainland-friendly Ma Ying-jeou succeeded Chen as president in 2008 and adopted a policy of engaging with Beijing.