'Unimaginable' cross-Straits meeting breeds optimism

Source:Xinhua Published: 2014-2-12 11:40:40

Chiefs of cross-Straits affairs from the Chinese mainland and Taiwan met formally for the first time since 1949 on Tuesday afternoon.

Zhang Zhijun, head of the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office (SCTAO), held a formal meeting with Wang Yu-chi, Taiwan's mainland affairs chief, who arrived in Nanjing, capital of east China's Jiangsu Province, on Tuesday morning as part of a four-day visit.

At their meeting, the two agreed to open a regular communication channel between their departments, the result of deepening mutual political trust on the basis of the 1992 consensus, said Zhang.

"I believe, with this arrangement, we will improve exchanges, understanding and mutual trust, and better handle outstanding problems in cross-Straits exchanges," he said.

When explaining the mechanism, Wang told a press conference after the meeting that senior officials of the two departments could "just pick up their mobile phones and talk" instead of setting up a special hot line.

Zhang also accepted Wang's invitation to visit Taiwan.

The mechanism will not replace talks between the mainland Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) and its Taiwan counterpart the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), which focus on detailed affairs and cross-Straits agreements. Nor will not change the way other departments contact each other.

Zhang Nianchi, director of the Shanghai Institute for East Asian Studies, told Xinhua that the arrangement is in line with the One China principle and will play a different role from the ARATS-SEF talks.

"They will not collide with each other. The cross-Straits affairs departments talk about bigger and more general topics," Zhang said. "At this meeting, they will talk about the most urgent cross-Straits issues."

Liu Xiangping, deputy head of the Institute of Taiwan Studies at Nanjing University, said that the new arrangement should help the ARATS-SEF talks be more effective.

Wu-ueh Chang, professor with the graduate institute of China studies at Taiwan's Tamkang University, told Xinhua that it was a good prelude to tackling political issues and perhaps to meetings between senior leaders.

"We can not expect too many achievements in one night. They will have to work harder on many issues," he said.

Unimaginable meeting

In his speech at the meeting, Wang described his meeting with Zhang as "an unimaginable occasion in earlier years."

"Being able to sit down and talk is really valuable, considering that the two sides were once almost at war," he said in the address.

Zhang agreed that such a meeting would have been impossible earlier and called for "a little more imagination" in cross-Straits relations.

Relations between the mainland and Taiwan stalled when the Kuomintang, led by Chiang Kai-shek, fled to Taiwan in 1949 after being defeated in a civil war.

Business and personnel exchanges resumed in the late 1980s, and in the early 1990s the two sides started to engage with each other through the mainland-based Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, and its Taiwan counterpart, the Straits Exchange Foundation.

The ARATS and SEF are non-governmental organizations founded in 1991 and 1990 respectively.

ARATS-SEF talks have speeded up since 2008 and produced a number of important agreements, including lifting the bans on direct shipping, air transport and postal services in 2008, and the long-awaited Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement in 2010.

The meeting between Zhang and Wang is an important breakthrough and may lead to regular visits. The two first met informally on the sidelines of the economic leaders' meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in Bali, Indonesia last October, when they agreed to mutual visits.

Great expectations, heavy responsibilities

"We meet amid great attention and with high hopes, but bear grave responsibilities," noted the Taiwan's affairs chief, who believes the direction is a straightforward one and their purposes will not take long to fulfill.

Zhang also told his visitor, "As chief officials on cross-Straits relations, we should talk more and understand each other better. I think people on both sides would welcome that."

"The meeting itself is of more significance than what they had to say," Liu said. "In future meetings, they need to work on real issues and remove cross-Straits barriers."

Prof. Su Chia-hung of Taiwan's Fooyin University told Xinhua that the meeting is good for Taiwan and will lead to closer economic and cultural cooperation.

"If such meetings produce concrete outcomes and better services for common people, Taiwan will welcome the arrangement," he said.

Both Zhang and Wang agreed that the two sides should make the most of current favorable relations.

Cross-Straits relations have survived ups and downs over 65 years, evolving from military and political confrontation to the historic shift toward peaceful development in 2008, Zhang said.

"Today's cross-Straits situation has been hard-earned through the efforts of generations. We should cherish it and work together to maintain this favorable momentum," he added. "We should be determined to avoid any further fluctuations and setbacks."

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