Taiwan offered a guarded welcome yesterday to the mainland's appointment of the former deputy foreign minister to head the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO).
The island's Mainland Affairs Council did not comment on the appointment of Zhang Zhijun, who replaced Wang Yi on Sunday as the office's new director. However, some pundits and party officials speculated that Zhang, with his rich background in foreign affairs, is a highly capable replacement for Wang, who was promoted to foreign minister.
In addition to his familiarity with US affairs, Zhang has also been involved in negotiations with Japan over the Diaoyu Islands territorial dispute.
Asked how the Taipei-based Mainland Affairs Council felt about the new director, spokeswoman Wu Mei-hung said the council normally does not comment on matters concerning personnel changes on the mainland.
"But of course we hope for even better development in cross-strait relations under Zhang," she said.
Those relations have notably improved since mainland-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou took office in 2008 and adopted an engagement policy.
On whether Taiwan would welcome Zhang in a visit as head of TAO, Wu said: "He just took office as director and has yet to express any hope for a visit. But it has long been our position to view normal cross-strait exchanges in a positive light."
That comment came after Wang said in a meeting with Taiwanese journalists in Beijing on Sunday that he felt some regret for not being able to visit the island during his four years as TAO director because of some negative sentiment from a small group of Taiwanese people.
Wang emphasised the importance of the TAO director visiting the island, given that more than 1,500 provincial- and ministerial-level officials from the mainland have visited Taiwan in the past five years. He said he hoped his replacement would have the opportunity to visit Taiwan.
Kao Huei, director of the Kuomintang's Mainland Affairs Committee, said he was cautiously optimistic about Zhang replacing Wang.
"Public information shows that Zhang is a veteran in engaging overseas political parties, so the outlook for his interaction with Taiwan's political parties should be good," Kao said.
He said if a TAO director is familiar with foreign affairs, it could help avert tension over diplomatic matters. He said Wang was a good example of someone who helped avoid such struggles.
Sun Yang-ming, vice-president of the Taipei-based Cross-Strait Interflow Prospect Foundation, said complications arise in Taiwan's interaction with the international community.
"With someone who has a global vision, we can generally expect Zhang to follow in Wang's footsteps in terms of improving cross-strait relations," he said.