The top Beijing official in charge of Taiwanese affairs has paid a visit to the island, in what is the first ever trip by a Chinese ministerial-level official. Protesters clashed on his arrival.
Zhang Zhijun, the minister of Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office, landed in the northern city of Taoyuan around noon on Wednesday. There were angry confrontations between dozens of both pro-unification activists and anti-China protesters at the airport and a city hotel.
The minister is due to hold four days of meetings in Taiwan. One of his main tasks will be allaying suspicions within Taiwan about a pending trade pact and general closer ties with Beijing.
Zhang's trip will focus on the poorer middle and south of Taiwan, where pro-independence sentiment can run deep. China and Taiwan split 65 years ago after a civil war, with China still vieweing the island as a renegade province that is awaiting reunification.
"It took three hours for me to fly here from Beijing, but it took 65 years for both sides across the Taiwan Strait to come this far," Zhang said as he held talks with Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Minster, Wang Yu-chi.
The pair's last meeting was in February in Nanjing, China, which marked the highest-level discussion between the two administrations since 1949. Wednesday's talks are the most senior to take place in Taiwan.
Opposition to warming ties
Zhang and Wang are expected to steer clear of overtly political topics. Trade and investment are on the agenda, including negotiations over future rounds of import tariff cuts and establishing consular-style offices beneficial to tourists and investors.
Relations between the two have improved significantly since China-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou took office in 2008. Ma agreed last year to put aside political disagreements and tie up Taiwan's investment-hungry economy with China's much larger one.
These moves have seen the two sides sign 21 deals, lifting two-way trade last year to over $120 billion (88 billion euros), and bringing in millions of mainland tourists.
These moves have been fiercely opposed by Taiwan activists. In March, hundreds of student-led protesters occupied the parliament in the capital, Taipei, to stop the ratification of a two-way trade pact.
Taiwan's main opposition party says it will not organize protests against Zhang during his visit, but smaller groups are vowing to follow him as he travels around.
jr/kms (Reuters, AP, dpa, AFP)