High-level diplomatic relations between China and Taiwan have kicked off in Beijing. The ice age during which China reproached Taiwan’s government of pursuing a pro-independence line and made menacing threats seems to have come to an end, thanks mainly to a regime change in Taipei.
Chen Yunlin, right, chairman of Chinese mainland's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, shakes hands with Chiang Pin-kun, chairman of the Taiwan-based Straits Exchange Foundation
Smiles were flashed and there was a hearty handshake as the chief negotiators from Taiwan and mainland China kicked off two days of talks at Beijing’s Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, which is often used for high-level diplomacy.
Within hours of the negotiators sitting down, a consensus to set up permanent offices to coordinate contacts had been reached.
However, no formal announcement had been made and the Chinese state media made no mention of the discussion, as opposed to the Taiwanese media which welcomed the prospect.
Experts say the talks are groundbreaking; expecting them to go down in history after an ice age of almost ten years.
“It is very clear that both sides the mainland and Taiwan see it in the national selfish interests of each other and respectively to stabilise what had been a very bad cross-strait relationship,” explained China expert David Finkelstein.
Direct flights across the strait are one clear way to improving relations. Some one million Taiwanese live on the mainland and until now they have always had to stop over in Hong Kong when travelling back to Taiwan (except on major holidays). An agreement on regular direct flights is due to be signed on Friday.
An agreement on tourism will also be signed -- Taiwan wants to attract more visitors from the mainland. 3,000 Chinese tourists will be allowed to fly to Taiwan daily, according to reports in both the Chinese state media and the Taiwanese media.
Avoiding controversial matters
The negotiators have tacitly agreed to avoid the more controversial matters which have loomed over the two sides since the end of a civil war in 1949. No mention has been made of a peace treaty.
Nor do observers expect the missiles which Beijing reportedly has aimed at the island to be discussed.
However, the negotiators appear upbeat that there will be more talks in the future where the more controversial issues will be broached. This, they hope, will lead to long-term peace and stability.
Change of wind
Formal talks were suspended in 1999 after Beijing was enraged by the former Taiwanese president’s description of China-Taiwan ties as “a special state-to-state relationship”. There followed years of very thorny relations. However, they seem to have been brought to a close by the election of Ma Ying-jeou as president of Taiwan in March.
He and the Kuomintang accept Beijing’s “One China” policy, although they want a democratic China, not a communist China. However, their stance proved sufficient to persuade Beijing to resume talks.
Finkelstein is not convinced the talks will bear fruit: “What I do worry about is that there will be so much anticipation of fast progress that there will be premature disappointment and frustration and then stasis once again because things aren’t moving fast enough.”
The negotiations continue to Friday and will also touch on financial matters.