WHEN China and Taiwan emissaries Mr Wang Daohan and Mr Koo Chen-fu entered the Neptune Orient Line Building in Singapore last week to hold talks on cross-Strait exchanges, both men knew they were making history. Has their meeting narrowed the gap between the two rivals after 44 years of separation? Is reunification now on the agenda? As far as early reunification was concerned, the answer must be no. The Kuomintang (KMT) in Taiwan and the Chinese Communist Party in China not only failed to see eye-to-eye on the issue, both sides made it painfully clear there was no room for compromise. In fact, both repeatedly stressed that the meeting was ''non-political'' and there was no hidden agenda. But on the first day of talks, Mr Wang, chairman of the Beijing-based Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS), tested the waters by suggesting santong, or direct communication and transport links. Mr Wang said although full-scale exchanges were not yet suitable, the two sides should break the ice by opening specific ports for sea cargoes. ''What I mean by santong is to allow direct transport, investment and mail exchanges between certain coastal areas in the Taiwan Strait such as Xiamen and Quemoy,'' Mr Wang said. But his suggestion was rejected by Mr Cheyne Chiu, Taipei's top negotiator and secretary-general of the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), who said it had ''exceeded the consensus agreed before the meeting''. Another contentious issue was the protection of Taiwanese investment in China. While the SEF demanded that Beijing legalised the existing guarantee, ARATS insisted that present protections were adequate. Beijing's intransigence on the issue almost scuttled the talks. Not only did Mr Chiu threaten not to sign a joint accord at the end of the summit, Taiwan officials were quick to go on the record in attacking Beijing for ''a lack of sincerity''. Taiwan politicians said although the talks made no progress in ''establishing the relationship between China and Taiwan'', they set the stage for more private contacts across the Taiwan Strait. However, Mr Shen Fu-hsiung, a Taiwan opposition legislator, pointed out that such ''achievements'' were agreed to by both sides a month ago when the negotiators prepared the ground for the Singapore meeting. ''They could have just faxed us the agreements. Why waste the time and money to come to Singapore for nothing?'' Mr Shen said. Mr Shih Ming-teh, a pro-independence legislator of the largest opposition party in Taiwan, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), doubted the KMT's intentions. ''Does he [President Mr Lee Teng-hui] want to turn Taiwan into a regional government under the People's Republic of China by reunifying with China?'' Mr Shih asked. The lack of progress has shown the sides are still divided by mistrust and misunderstanding. The rapidly changing political climate in Taiwan was a major factor behind such animosity, Mr Shen said. Unlike in the old days when the KMT enjoyed absolute authority and respect, the ruling party now has to share power. Moreover, as Mr Lee - the first native Taiwanese president - struggles to find a national identity for himself and 20 million Taiwanese, the KMT has faced serious divisions and dissenting voices within the party. As one senior Taiwan negotiator said after the Singapore meeting: ''The pressure was too strong and our hands were tied. ''Do you know what is the proportion of Taiwanese investment in the mainland? Just 12 per cent of all foreign investment. So how are you going to bargain with a negotiator like Tang Shubei [ARATS vice-chairman] for greater protection?'' he said. But time is running out. Taiwan will have its first presidential election in 1996 and the DPP claim they will win if Mr Lee fails to resolve the reunification issue.