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Xi Seeks Political Solutions on Taiwan After Closer Trade Ties

China's President Xi Jinping
Improving mutual trust is key to ensuring peaceful development of cross-strait relations, said Xi Jinping, China's president, according to Xinhua. Photographer: Goh Seng Chong/Bloomberg

China and Taiwan should resolve their long-standing political disagreements, Chinese President Xi Jinping said yesterday, as he seeks to address a six-decade division after forging closer economic ties.

China is willing to hold talks with Taiwan on an equal basis under the “One China” principle, Xi said in a meeting with Taiwanese envoy Vincent Siew while the two were attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bali, Indonesia, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

“We cannot hand those problems down from generation to generation,” Xi said, according to Xinhua.

China’s closer economic ties with Taiwan helped boost the island’s growth as tourist spending surged and trade increased under President Ma Ying-jeou’s administration. Ma must balance improved relations with concerns that the mainland would dominate its smaller neighbor.

“They want to remind the Taiwanese that they can’t deepen economic ties without political negotiations forever,” Jean-Pierre Cabestan, political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, said by telephone. “It shows a bit of a gentle impatience.”

Civil groups across the Taiwan Strait will hold the first peace forum Oct. 11 to 12 in Shanghai, an initiative that is supported by the Chinese government, which sees it as paving the way for furthering formal political talks.

Siew, a former Taiwan vice president who is representing Ma at the APEC meeting, told reporters yesterday in Bali that his discussion with Xi focused on economic and trade cooperation and regional integration.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also met with Siew in Bali to discuss steps both sides are taking to advance “substantive unofficial relations” between the U.S. and Taiwan, according to a separate State Department statement.

Mutual Trust

Improving mutual trust is key to ensuring peaceful development of cross-strait relations, Xi said, according to Xinhua. The two sides must also continue economic cooperation in order to face challenges, he said.

Taiwan has had a separate government since Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Party retreated to the island in 1949 following a civil war with Mao Zedong’s Communists. The Communist Party still deems Taiwan a breakaway province that must be unified with China, by force if necessary.

China had more than 1,100 short-range ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan by the end of last year, according to the U.S. Department of Defense’s Annual Report to Congress.

China’s top Taiwan affairs official, Zhang Zhijun, and his Taiwanese counterpart, Wang Yu-chi, held discussions while Xi and Siew were meeting and agreed to hold reciprocal visits, according to Xinhua.

Since Taiwan opened for Chinese tourists in 2008, the visitors spent NT$292.6 billion ($10 billion) as of June 30, according to the Tourism Bureau. The two sides signed trade pacts to allow each others’ companies greater access to services markets.

Hong Kong

Xi also met separately with Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, the city’s third leader since China took back sovereignty from the U.K in 1997.

Xi told Leung that Hong Kong must follow its constitution in implementing democratic reforms as it moves toward universal suffrage.

Political reforms must follow the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, and the decisions of China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee, Leung said Xi told him.

China has pledged to introduce universal suffrage to Hong Kong by 2017, while Leung and his two predecessors were chosen by a committee. The city’s government has yet to reveal details of the 2017 election and pro-democracy activists have vowed to occupy the financial district next year if the proposals fall short of international standards.

The Basic Law states that candidates for the chief executive position have to be nominated by a “broadly representative” committee, Zhang Xiaoming, director of China’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong, wrote last month in an open letter to Civic Party leader Alan Leong. Zhang’s comments were the clearest China had made in rejecting activists’ demands for an open nomination.

China’s “One Country, Two Systems” policy granted Hong Kong its own legal system under the Basic Law for 50 years from 1997. The city allows residents civil liberties including a free press and freedom of assembly not permitted in the mainland.

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