Zhang Zhijun, director of the mainland's Taiwan Affairs Office, yesterday held a groundbreaking meeting with Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu from the island's main opposition Democratic Progressive Party.
The first official meeting in Taiwan between the senior mainland official and a member of the pro-independence party signals Beijing is taking a more flexible approach to dealing with the DPP. They agreed more exchanges could help bridge differences.
"We understand that people in Taiwan greatly treasure the social system, value and lifestyle they have chosen and we respect their choices," Zhang said after meeting Chen. He said it was not easy for the former rivals to develop warm relations after a long time of sour ties, but to maintain their now improving ties, the mainland was willing to respect different opinions in Taiwan.
Zhang said that his four-day visit, which ends today, had given him an opportunity to meet local people, especially in southern Taiwan, which would help him understand their views.
He also called for more exchanges - including with members of opposition parties sides - in remarks observers said reflected Beijing's new flexibility in dealing with the DPP. Beijing was previously highly critical of the DPP's pro-independence stance.
Chen later said she told Zhang that he must have heard a number of different opinions or even encountered certain protests since his arrival on Wednesday.
"I told him this is a pluralistic part of Taiwan's democracy," Chen said, adding she believed it would help Zhang understand more about Taiwan, which underwent a long and difficult democratisation process.
She said she had also told Zhang about the anger felt by many in Taiwan over a recent statement by Taiwan Affairs Office spokeswoman Fan Liqing that the future of Taiwan must be decided by all Chinese people, not just those in Taiwan.
"I asked him to respect the Taiwan-centric view of the Taiwanese public," she said.
Members of the tiny pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union, the student-led Taiwan March organisation and the Falun-Gong spiritual movement banned by the mainland continued protests against Zhang.