Talks between Taiwanese and Chinese officials have put their relations on a more politically representative footing capable of discussing a wider range of issues. China still regards Taiwan as a renegade province while the Taiwanese are determined to maintain the political control they have exercised over the island since its ruling Kuomintang party fled the mainland after the 1949 revolution. These are the first formal government-to-government contacts since then. Greatly improved economic and human links in recent decades have yet to find adequate political or diplomatic expression.
The meeting between Zhang Zhijun, head of China's Taiwan Affairs Council and his counterpart Wang Yu-chi of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council agreed that they can talk directly at this level, rather than through more unwieldy existing structures. It is an important move and comes as a result of efforts on both sides to make a rapprochement. Chinese president Xi Jinping said after meeting Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou informally last October: "We cannot hand these problems down from generation to generation". The Chinese are keen to make progress ahead of forthcoming elections in Taiwan that put Mr Ma under pressure from the more independence-minded opposition Democratic Progressive Party.
Taiwan’s 23 million population is only a small percentage of China’s demographically, but economically they are more evenly matched. The numbers are impressively large, as two-way trade was $197 billion last year, while Taiwanese investments on the mainland come to $100 billion in 80,000 companies, including some huge ones like Foxcomm. Flights and tourism are flourishing. Both states are thus in a good position to move on to a new footing, with Taiwan hoping for a relaxation of the diplomatic isolation China has insisted on with most third parties.
Taiwan's security treaty with the United States entangles it with President Obama's pivot to Asia and the current assertion of Chinese naval power and military outreach in the Pacific region. Both sides hope these wider tensions will not affect their better relations.