Taiwan will send a senior cross-strait affairs official to the mainland next month for talks with his counterpart there, in what is seen as an important breakthrough in mutual recognition between the two former rivals.
Wang Yu-chi, head of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, will meet Zhang Zhijun of the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office after the Lunar New Year holidays, officials said.
Analysts said the meeting would help pave the way for potential government-to-government talks should everything go smoothly.
It will be the first time since the end of the civil war in 1949 that officials from the two sides will talk face to face in their official capacities.
Wang declined to reveal exact details about when and where the meeting would be staged, though the United Daily News, quoting an unnamed source, said the two officials would meet in Nanjing on February 16. Taiwan's Central News Agency, however, quoted another unnamed source as saying Wang would leave for a four-day trip to the mainland even earlier, possibly during the Lantern Festival, which falls on February 14.
"We are in the process of finalising the agenda and itineraries, and will announce the event at a formal news conference," Wang said during a lunch with local media, referring to the council's lunar year-end news conference to be held today.
Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou said the meeting between Wang and Zhang was "an important step towards upgrading cross-strait relations".
Ma, visiting Honduras on the last leg of an eight-day overseas trip, said he had not given Wang any specific mission for the planned meeting with Zhang. In Beijing, Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Ma Xiaoguang said the meeting would help further promote relations between chief officials in charge of cross-strait affairs.
George Tsai Wei, a political science professor at Chinese Culture University in Taipei, said the meeting was significant because it represented the first official contact between the two sides. "This also shows that the two sides will be able to do away with civilian proxies in discussing important cross-strait issues in the future, which would help pave the way for potential political dialogue," he said.