NUSA DUA, Indonesia – China said on Sunday it was open to a visit by Taiwan’s top cross-strait official as it called for a political settlement to prevent their differences being handed down “from generation to generation”.
Chinese President Xi Jinping met Vincent Siew, Taiwan’s former vice president, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Indonesia. They shook hands and smiled for the cameras.
The first such China-Taiwan meeting at the APEC forum was in 2008 when tensions between the two started thawing after decades of hostility stemming from the two sides’ separation at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949.
Xi emphasized that both sides should keep pushing for a political settlement to their longstanding division, and that they should see themselves as “one family”, China’s Xinhua news agency said.
The Chinese communist supremo said “we cannot hand those problems down from generation to generation”, it reported.
Siew, the special envoy to APEC of Taiwan’s business-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou, told reporters that he and Xi discussed mainly economic and trade issues during their 30-minute meeting.
Ma, while pushing through a startling transformation in the business climate across the Taiwan Strait, has been more resistant to opening up a political front to the rapprochement.
But Taiwan played up the symbolic import of a separate encounter in Bali between Wang Yuqi, its top official on mainland affairs, and his Beijing counterpart, Zhang Zhijun.
The meeting was the first such political encounter between the heads of the respective cross-strait bodies, the island’s government said.
“I would consider it a milestone,” Kuan Chung-ming, the head of Taiwan’s Council for Economic Planning and Development, told reporters in Bali.
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council described the meeting as “the good start of a normalized official interaction between the two sides”, stressing that Zhang had referred to Wang by the Taiwan official’s formal title of “chairman”.
“It showed that the two sides respect each other and have adopted a more pragmatical attitude,” the Council said in a statement.
According to Xinhua, China’s Zhang said that he welcomed Wang “to visit the mainland at a proper time”. It did not go into further detail.
President Ma himself was not at APEC. Taiwan’s leaders are barred from the grouping’s summits due to objections from China, which claims sovereignty over the island, and are represented instead by senior economic advisers or business leaders such as Siew.
China has always considered Taiwan part of its territory ever since the end of the civil war, when the communists emerged victorious on the mainland and the defeated nationalists fled to the island.
But ties have improved markedly since Ma of the Kuomintang (nationalist) party took power in 2008 on a platform of promoting trade and reconciliation with the mainland.
In June 2010 Taiwan and China signed the landmark Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, a pact widely seen as the boldest step yet towards reconciliation.
Taiwan has been a major investor in China in recent years, providing more than $100 billion in financing according to some estimates, as well as technological know-how.
While Taiwan appeared keen to trumpet the significance of Sunday’s Bali meetings, Chinese state media were more matter-of-fact in their reporting.
City University of Hong Kong political scientist Joseph Cheng said the meeting of Zhang and Wang at an official rather than working level was a “small breakthrough”.
“The Chinese authorities would certainly try to offer support for Ma Ying-jeou and his so-called cross-strait policy so as to demonstrate that his peaceful approach has brought benefits to Taiwan. And I think this is the very purpose of these meetings,” the professor told AFP.
“At the same time, the Chinese authorities have been much more forthcoming in giving trade and economic concessions to Taiwan. They have also been patient with regards to political talks with a view to a peace agreement between Beijing and Taipei,” he said.