President Hu Jintao yesterday told the visiting honorary chairman of Taiwan's Kuomintang, Lien Chan, that cross-strait ties had made "major progress" since 2005.
Analysts saw Hu's comment as an effort to cement his legacy as a key figure in the thawing of ties between the mainland and Taiwan before he is succeeded by Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping next month.
In his meeting with Lien at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Hu stressed that the peaceful development of cross-strait relations was in accord with the overall interests of the Chinese nation. "It also falls in line with the wishes of the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, as proven by major progress made in recent years," Xinhua quoted Hu as saying.
Lien made history in 2005 with a fence-mending trip to Beijing, during which he met Hu, and Hu addressed him as an "old and good" friend.
Hu said the understanding and ideas reflected in the "common aspiration and prospects for cross-strait peace and development" they issued during their historic 2005 meeting "have been proven right".
Those common views, he said, had resulted in increased economic co-operation and personnel exchanges since 2008 - when the KMT's Ma Ying-jeou became Taiwan's president and adopted a policy of engaging Beijing. Hu also praised Lien for his efforts in the peaceful development of cross-strait ties in the past eight years.
In response, Lien praised Hu for his foresight and "grand historic vision" in inviting him to the mainland eight years ago for dialogue that led to the improvement of cross-strait relations. He said the efforts of the two sides had seen most of the ideas in their common views realised over the years.
But in what appeared to be a slip of the tongue, Lien called Taiwan a troublemaker in the eyes of the international community, saying the "current peaceful development of cross-strait ties is the right and effective path", a comment his spokeswoman later explained was a reference to the fomenting of cross-strait tension by the pro-independence Chen Shui-bian during his time as Taiwanese president between 2000 and 2008.
Lien, who met Xi on Monday, invited Hu to visit Taiwan after he retired next month.
Analysts said that the meeting between Lien and Hu represented the end of one era and the beginning of another in terms of the leadership on the mainland.
"Cross-strait relations have seen substantial development during Hu's term," said Ni Yongjie, deputy director of the Shanghai Institute for Taiwan Studies. "In fact, they have been the best in 60-odd years, and this has laid a firm foundation for the next stage of cross-strait relations."
On Taiwan being labelled an international troublemaker, Taiwanese political commentator Julian Kuo said Lien had just been reviewing a time when the two sides were still involved in a tense stand-off, adding that "this means Taiwan is no longer a troublemaker now".
Additional reporting by Minnie Chan