Cross-strait teams settle all discussions Beijing and Taiwan will formally seal today much-anticipated deals to launch weekend direct cross-strait chartered flights and to open the island to mainland tourists, with negotiators settling all discussions yesterday 'Agreement was achieved during today's [Thursday] negotiations,' top Taiwan negotiator Chiang Pin-kung said in a meeting with Wang Yi, the newly appointed director of the mainland State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office. The announcement suggested the way had been paved for a widely expected meeting today between Mr Chiang, who is visiting Beijing as head of the semi-official Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), and Chinese President Hu Jintao . If the meeting occurs, it will underscore the importance Beijing attaches to fostering closer relations with Taiwan through economic co-operation and people exchanges. The two sides now communicate through various channels, including links between the Chinese Communist Party and Taiwan's ruling party, the Kuomintang, and between the SEF and its mainland counterpart, the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (Arats). Links also expanded through talks between Mr Hu and KMT honorary chairman Lien Chan. Although cross-strait economic ties are set for a boost, critics pointed out that political issues had been set aside for now. In the meeting yesterday between Mr Chiang and Arats head Chen Yunlin, the 1992 consensus - which defines Taiwan's relationship with the mainland but more often is a source of controversy due to each side's differing interpretation - was not mentioned publicly. In the separate meeting with Mr Wang, Mr Chiang said that sealing the deals was significant to both sides. 'These [the agreements] will bring convenience to people on both sides, and boost Taiwan's economy,' he said. Mr Wang described the meeting yesterday as a major step towards cross-strait peaceful development. He also heaped praise on Mr Chiang. 'Mr Chiang is a famous politician, a witness to cross-strait relations,' he said. 'You settled the issues of direct flights and the tourist scheme in a very short time through equal negotiation.' The meeting between Mr Chiang and Mr Wang also signalled the importance the central government attached to the negotiations. Mr Wang met Mr Chiang in his capacity as director of the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office, instead of as head of the Communist Party's Taiwan Affairs Office. Despite all the fanfare on the agreements, both sides were aware of unresolved differences. SEF deputy director Kao Koong-lian stressed to the mainland negotiators the Taiwan people's desire for respect and peace. 'As to the future of cross-strait relations, what the people of Taiwan want is peace, prosperity and dignity,' he said. 'We hope that different parties on the mainland can recognise that and consider the matter by placing themselves in our shoes.' He added that although agreement was reached, both sides should be more open. Mr Kao said there had been a serious imbalance in the exchange of visitors across the Taiwan Strait, with more than 4.6 million Taiwanese visiting the mainland every year but fewer than 300,000 making the trip in the opposite direction. 'I hope that by opening up [the island to mainland tourists] the imbalance can be eased,' he said. 'The more exchanges between people on both sides, the easier it is to eliminate misunderstanding. And it's mutually beneficial for people and economic development across the strait.' According to Mr Chiang yesterday, the SEF would also co-ordinate with Arats to facilitate Beijing's gift of two pandas to Taipei. 'The pandas will surely make many Taiwanese children happy ... I expressed gratitude [in relation to this offer],' Mr Chiang said.