The honorary chairman of Taiwan's Kuomintang, Lien Chan, will meet Communist Party chief Xi Jinping in Beijing on Monday in the highest-level cross-strait meeting since Xi took office in November.
Taiwanese politicians and pundits see the meeting, to be followed by another on Tuesday with outgoing President Hu Jintao, as highly significant given that Xi succeeds Hu as state leader next month.
Lien, a former vice-president, will lead a delegation of 30 politicians and business leaders to Beijing on Sunday night, KMT officials said yesterday.
"He is scheduled to meet general secretary Xi on Monday," a spokeswoman for Lien's office said, adding that Lien would meet Hu the next day and also Jia Qinglin , who steps down as chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference next month, before returning to Taipei on Wednesday.
The director of the KMT's mainland affairs department, Kao Hui, said Xi had invited Lien to visit Beijing.
Kao said Lien, who has visited the mainland frequently, had met Xi before and that regular meetings between senior officials from the two sides of the strait were representative of warming and amiable relations.
Lien's historic mainland visit in 2005, during which he met Hu in Beijing, marked a significant step in relations between Taipei and Beijing - political rivals since the end of a civil war in 1949. It also led to an improvement in cross-strait relations when the KMT's Ma Ying-jeou became Taiwan's president in 2008 and adopted a policy of engaging Beijing.
The friendships Lien has built with mainland leaders over the years have made him one of the few politicians from Taiwan trusted by Beijing, a fact reflected in the mainland's tacit agreement for Lien to represent Ma at summit meetings of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum for the past five years. Beijing used to object to any senior politician from Taiwan attending international events.
Taiwanese pundits said the Lien-Xi meeting should shed some light on Xi's intentions with regard to cross-strait policy.
"Being the incoming mainland leader, it will be a good opportunity for Xi to express goodwill to Taiwan through his meeting with Lien," said cross-strait affairs expert George Tsai Wei, a professor at Chinese Culture University in Taipei.
"What Xi will discuss on cross-strait relations should give clues to the future direction of the mainland's policy towards Taiwan."
Other pundits said they expected Xi would continue Hu's warming cross-strait policy for least his first two years in office, but would also push for political dialogue with the island to pave the way for eventual reunification.