Taiwan post marks former aide's return to the fold
The apparent appointment of Yan Mingfu as the top negotiator with Taiwan is an attempt by the leadership not only to reopen formal negotiations with Taiwan, but also to complete the rehabilitation of Mr Yan, the former aide of ousted party chief Zhao Ziyang .
Mr Yan, 76, has worked closely with Premier Wen Jiabao in the past.
He became secretary of the Secretariat of the Communist Party Central Committee in 1987 - the year Mr Wen, then director of the party's General Office, became an alternate member of the Secretariat.
Mr Yan, who headed the United Work Department from 1985 to 1990 and was a dominant figure in handling Tibetan affairs at that time, was also crucial in supporting the appointment of President Hu Jintao , a protege of former party chief Hu Yaobang , as the party boss in Tibet in 1988.
He maintained a cosy relationship with the previous Panchen Lama and has been working closely with Mr Hu and Mr Wen in handling Tibetan affairs.
One example was when Mr Yan and Mr Wen took a medical assistance team from Lhasa to Xigaze when the Panchen Lama was in critical condition in January 1989, sources said.
Landing at Xigaze was dangerous because of bad weather, and Mr Wen and Mr Yan took separate helicopters so that if one crashed, the other could still carry out the mission, a source quoted Mr Yan as saying.
Such experiences and the few years working with Mr Wen made Mr Yan a trusted figure for the Hu-Wen leadership and the top choice to replace Wang Daohan , the president of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait who died in 2005.
Mr Yan is the son of the party's first head of the United Front Work Department, Yan Baohang, and his family members have had extensive links with former Kuomintang officials, including the late 'Young Marshal', Chang Hsueh-liang.
Mr Yan went to Hawaii to visit Mr Chang three times, and his family still maintains solid links with politicians and businessmen in Taiwan, sources said.
Mr Yan, a famous liberal, was forced to step down from the Secretariat and government posts because of his sympathy with the students during the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989. He was only partially rehabilitated when appointed vice-minister of civil affairs two years later.
He lost his political clout and retired from the government when he reached 65.
Reports said former president Jiang Zemin had once suggested to Mr Yan that he play a bigger role in Taiwan affairs, but Mr Yan, wanting to stay away from mainstream politics, declined the offer.
Mr Yan has been involved in charity work since retiring and has served as chairman of China's Charity Association. He has kept a low profile.
The full rehabilitation of Mr Yan could also be seen as a subtle message from the Hu-Wen leadership to those involved in the Tiananmen Square crackdown, an observer said.
Although any reversal of history's verdict of the crackdown would not be possible during Mr Hu's tenure, the appointment of Mr Yan to a crucial honorary post would be seen as a subtle reconciliatory message.
Yan Mingfu's career
1931 Born in Liaoning province
1949 Graduated from Harbin Foreign Language College
1967-76 Persecuted and jailed during the Cultural Revolution
1985-90 Head of Communist Party's United Front Work Department
1987 Secretary of the secretariat of the party's Central Committee and member of the 13th party Central Committee
1988-90 Vice-Chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference
1989 Deposed as secretary of the Central Committee secretariat for alleged 'improper behaviour'
1991 Vice-Minister of Civil Affairs
1998 President of the China Charity Federation
2005 Attended former party general secretary Zhao Ziyang's funeral
2007 A strong supporter of pro-democracy magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu