Top officials in charge of cross-strait relations for Beijing and Taipei last night broached the sensitive topic of a summit of leaders from both sides during an hours-long "tea chat" at the Fairmont Peace Hotel in Shanghai.
The possibily of an unprecedented face-to-face meeting between presidents Xi Jinping and Ma Ying-jeou was discussed by Zhang Zhijun , director of the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office, and his Taiwanese counterpart, Wang Yu-chi, as part of the first official talks in more than six decades between the two former civil war rivals.
"The two sides have expressed their respective stands on the issue," said Wu Mei-hung, a spokeswoman for Wang's Mainland Affairs Council, after the nearly three-hour discussion.
Several sticking points remain, such as where and in what capacity the two leaders would meet. Ma, who is said to want a presidential summit to cap off his legacy of improved relations with Beijing, has proposed meeting Xi at the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation forum, which will be held in Beijing this year.
But mainland leaders, who view Taiwan as a breakaway province, want to avoid an international setting that might give the impression that cross-strait affairs are anything other than domestic.
The first-of-its-kind dialogue between Zhang and Wang, which began in Nanjing on Tuesday, marked the first government-to-government talks by the two sides since the Nationalists were fled to Taiwan in 1949.
Previous talks between the two sides have been conducted through semi-official bodies, party organisations and other proxies. Cross-strait relations have warmed since Ma was elected Taiwanese president in 2008 and adopted a policy of engagement with Beijing.
Wu said Wang has invited Zhang to visit to Taiwan, a trip Zhang later told reporters he would hope to make in the first half of the year.
The Peace Hotel occupies a hallowed spot in the history of relations between the two sides, as it was site of landmark 1998 meeting between the late Koo Chen-fu of Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation and the late Wang Daohan of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait.
They first met in Singapore in 1993 at a landmark summit that reflected the desires of the two sides to ease hostility and improve relations.
"The 1993 talks between Wang Daohan and Koo Chen-fu ushered in peaceful dialogue between our two sides," said Zhang earlier, after paying respects at Wang's grave in Shanghai.
Analysts meanwhile said Taiwan and the mainland appeared willing to "set aside" differences about the use of political terms, and focus on achievable goals.
"The improvement has led to Wang's visit to the mainland and talks with Zhang in their official capacities, a major breakthrough in cross-strait ties," said cross-strait expert Yang Kai-huang, a professor at Ming Chuan University in Taipei. "This indicates the mainland, at least at a certain level, no longer denies the government status of Taiwan."
Wang used Taiwan's official name, the Republic of China, during a speech at Sun Yat-sen's mausoleum on Wednesday.
From trading blows to cutting trade deals
December 9, 1949: Kuomintang under Chiang Kai-shek establishes its bastion in Taipei after losing the civil war to Mao Zedong's Communist Party
March 3, 1955: Taipei and US sign Mutual Defence Treaty
August 23, 1958: People's Liberation Army begins shelling Quemoy and Matsu in the Quemoy-Matsu Crisis. Shelling continues until January 1, 1979
December 1978: Beijing adopts peaceful unification strategy to replace "liberating Taiwan by force" policy
January 1, 1979: Beijing stops shelling Quemoy and Matsu. Standing Committee of the National People's Congress issues "Letter to Taiwan Compatriots"
April 4, 1979: Kuomintang chairman Chiang Ching-kuo promotes a "Three-Noes Policy" - "no compromise, no contacts, no negotiations".
January 1982: Deng Xiaoping introduces "one country, two systems" arrangement, originally intended for Taiwan
October 1992: Semi-official negotiators from both sides reach verbal, tacit consensus there is only one China during meeting in Hong Kong
April 27, 1993: First talks between chairmen of Taipei's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and Beijing's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (Arats) held in Singapore
June 1995: Beijing puts cross-strait talks on hold due to Lee Teng-hui's high-profile visit to US
1995-96: PLA conducts series of missile tests in East China Sea as warning against Lee's proposal cross-strait relations be on a "state-to-state" basis
June 12, 2008 Beijing and Taipei resume semi-official talks through SEF and Arats
November 4, 2008: Chen Yunlin and Chiang Pin-kung sign agreement in Taipei reintroducing daily direct flights, direct cargo flights, direct shipping and direct postal service between the sides
June 30, 2010: Two sides sign landmark Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement reducing tariffs on 539 Taiwanese exports and 267 mainland exports
February 11: Taiwan Affairs Office director Zhang Zhijun and Mainland Affairs Council chairman Wang Yu-chi meet in Nanjing