President Xi Jinping yesterday said Beijing was willing to learn more about the concerns of the Taiwanese people as he met a key emissary between Taiwan and Beijing.
His comment during a meeting in Beijing with James Soong Chu-yu, chairman of the minor opposition faction People First Party came amid Beijing's planned charm offensive for the island following a wave of student-led protests in Taipei against a mainland trade pact.
"We'd like to know more about the practical needs of the Taiwan people, especially those [in] the grass roots," Xi said.
The mainland was also willing to "take proactive and effective steps to take care of vulnerable groups" in Taiwan, Xi was quoted by Xinhua as saying.
Claiming the trade service pact would lead to thousands of lost jobs and that closer ties with the mainland might erode the island's autonomy, some 200 Taiwanese students seized the island's parliament from March 18 to April 10, demanding the pact's withdrawal. Their move gained popular support, with half a million showing up in one major protest in front of the Presidential Office on March 30.
Wang Kung-yi, a professor of international affairs at Tamkang University in Taipei, said Xi's comments showed that Beijing had taken note of the protests, widely seen as the biggest threat to President Ma Ying-jeou's administration in recent years.
"Through the meeting with Soong, Xi has indicated the mainland's choice to have closer interactions with the grass roots and [youth] in Taiwan," Wang said.
Xi noted that as the future development of cross-strait relations rested on young people from both sides of the Taiwan Strait, there was a need to "create more conditions for them to have more interactions".
This could help them better understand and see the peaceful development of relations as well as the grand mission of "Chinese renaissance", Xi said. Xi vowed to expand all levels of contact, communication and exchanges with various sectors of Taiwan.
But Soong, who arrived in Beijing on Tuesday for a four-day visit, asked Xi to understand the desire of the Taiwanese to be the "masters of their own destiny" and urged Beijing to be more tolerant of Taiwan's centrist and pluralist bent. "After all, the political and social systems of Taiwan and mainland China are different," he said in a press statement.
Soong said Xi assured that cross-strait relations were not about "who swallows up the other" and that Beijing had no desire to take advantage of Taiwan.
It was Soong's first meeting with the president and marked his return to the political scene following a hiatus after his wife's death in 2012.
Soong had been active in cross-strait affairs, paving the way for a rapprochement. He was the second leader of Taiwan's mainland-friendly camp to meet Xi's predecessor, Hu Jintao , in 2005, which warmed ties even before Ma became president in 2008 and adopted a policy of engaging Beijing.