China and Taiwan hold historic talks aimed at improving relations

Two nations in first official talks since split in 1949

Wang Yu-chi, left, Minister of Taiwan’s Mainland Affair Council, shakes hands with Zhang Zhijun, right, Minister of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, before their meeting in Nanjing in east China’s Jiangsu province. It’s the first official contact between the two governments since the civil war in 1940s. Photograph: EPA

Wang Yu-chi, left, Minister of Taiwan’s Mainland Affair Council, shakes hands with Zhang Zhijun, right, Minister of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, before their meeting in Nanjing in east China’s Jiangsu province. It’s the first official contact between the two governments since the civil war in 1940s. Photograph: EPA

Tue, Feb 11, 2014, 17:16

China and Taiwan are holding their highest-level official talks since they split at the end of a brutal civil war in 1949, in an effort to improve relations and economic links between the two rivals.

Zhang Zhijun, head of China’s State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, held a formal meeting with Wang Yu-chi, Taiwan’s mainland affairs chief, in the eastern city of Nanjing, the Xinhua news agency reported.

Formal talks have not taken place since the Kuomintang (KMT), led by Chiang Kai-shek, fled to Taiwan in 1949 after being defeated in the civil war. The mainland Chinese Communist Party considers Taiwan a renegade province and has never ruled out the use of force to bring the island under its wing after taking control of the mainland in 1949.

There have been indications that some kind of rapprochement is on the cards. Last year, President Xi Jinping said: “We cannot hand these problems down from generation to generation.”

The negotiations, which are expected to go on for days, could lead to the establishment of representative offices, although sensitive political issues are not likely to be broached.

“We meet under great attention and expectations and bear great responsibilities,” Mr Zhang said, quoted on Xinhua.

“I believe, with this arrangement, the two sides will improve exchanges, understanding and mutual trust, and better handle outstanding problems in cross-Strait exchanges,” he said.

“Today’s cross-Strait situation has been hard-earned through efforts of generations. We should cherish it and work together to maintain this favourable momentum,” Mr Zhang said. “We should be determined to avoid any further fluctuations and setbacks.”

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

Economic ties have also improved in recent years under the stewardship of Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou, who has taken a more conciliatory approach in cross-Strait affairs.

Since Mr Ma was elected in 2008 there have seen several cross-Strait agreements, including an agreement to lift the ban on direct shipping, flights across the straits, more tourism and an Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement in 2010.

Taiwan’s Mr Wang described the meeting as “an unimaginable occasion in earlier years, being able to sit down and talk is a really valuable opportunity, considering that the two sides were once almost at war.”

The two men met informally on the sidelines of the informal economic leaders’ meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Bali, Indonesia last October, and they agreed to hold mutual visits.