China and Taiwan officials set a date for talks next month, the United Daily News reported today, paving the way for the first official government-to-government meetings since a civil war six decades ago.
The head of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, Wang Yu-chi, will meet with the head of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, Zhang Zhijun, on Feb. 16 in the mainland city of Nanjing, the Taipei-based newspaper reported, citing an unidentified person. Nanjing was China’s capital before the civil war forced Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang Party to flee to Taiwan in 1949, ceding power to Mao Zedong’s Communists. Taiwan and the mainland have been governed separately since then, with the island’s constitution retaining the Republic of China’s name and territorial claims.
“The meeting is a considerable breakthrough because this is the first time that two government officials are going to meet in their formal capacities, representing a certain level of mutual recognition,” said Joseph Cheng, a political science professor at the City University of Hong Kong.
President Ma Ying-Jeou, speaking on an official visit to Honduras, said the meeting is an “inevitable” step in cross-strait relations, the Central News Agency reported yesterday.
A Nanjing meeting would be the latest sign of reconciliation in a relationship that saw the mainland fire missiles into the stretch of water between them in 1996 before Taiwan’s first democratic presidential election. Ma’s presidency, which began in 2008, ushered in warmer ties as he moved away from the independence-leaning policies of his predecessor, Chen Shui-bian.
Wang, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council minister, declined to comment when contacted by telephone today. He is scheduled to give an annual media briefing tomorrow ahead of the Lunar New Year. The ruling Kuomintang Party said earlier in December that Wang was planning to meet his China counterpart in February.
Asked about the report today, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang referred questions to the Taiwan Affairs Office. Three calls to the office today rang unanswered.
At the Nanjing meetings, Wang and Zhang of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office will discuss topics including the establishment of cross-strait representative offices, access for each side’s news media, and cross-strait economic restructuring, according to United Daily News.
Wang and Zhang “interacted” in October at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bali, Indonesia, and addressed one another by their formal titles, according to the Taipei Times. Chinese President Xi Jinping said at the summit that China and Taiwan should avoid passing on their political impasse from one generation to the next.
The meeting would be a departure from previous practice of contact through non-governmental organizations. In 1993, Taiwan’s Straits Exchange Foundation and China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits held the first public meeting since 1949. Other non-government representatives, such as then-Chairman of the Nationalist party, Lien Chan, and former Taiwan Vice President Vincent Siew, have met with Chinese presidents.
“The meeting could replace the SEF and ARATS white gloves,” said Ting Jen-fang, professor of politics at Taiwan’s National Cheng Kung University, said Jan. 20. “This is a step toward recognizing each other’s government and its legitimacy, which hasn’t happened in the past.”
Separately today, Taiwan’s Investment Commission said it approved “in principle” applications by seven companies to invest $263.6 million in petrochemical production in China. Approval depends on the companies enhancing research and development in Taiwan and shipping products back to the island, the commission said on its website.
The Communist Party and the Kuomintang have never reached a formal peace agreement ending their conflict. China, which considers Taiwan part of its territory, has said it will take the island by force if necessary. Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said in an October report that China could mount a successful invasion of Taiwan by 2020.
“Beijing certainly is eager for this kind of meeting because Beijing hopes to have some kind of political dialog leading to formal peace agreement,” said Cheng of the City University of Hong Kong.