China and Taiwan agreed to set up a communication mechanism after historic talks in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing yesterday, the first formal contact between the governments in 65 years.
Wang Yu-chi, Taiwan’s minister of mainland affairs, hailed the meeting as the start of a “new chapter” in relations between two sides that have never formally recognized each other after establishing rival governments in 1949 following a civil war. Both sides met with equal standing and showed mutual respect, he said.
“We absolutely can’t let the relations between the two sides be turbulent again, and even more, we can’t backtrack,” Wang’s mainland counterpart, Zhang Zhijun, said.
It was the first official contact between the governments since a Chinese civil war forced Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists to flee to Taiwan in 1949. While China considers Taiwan part of its territory to be reclaimed by force if necessary, relations have thawed in recent years as economic ties deepened. China became Taiwan’s largest trade partner more than a decade ago and direct flights between the territories began in 2008.
“This will be good for regional stability,” George Tsai, a political scientist at Taipei-based Chinese Culture University, said by phone yesterday. “Even if Taiwan elects a new government in 2016, there shouldn’t be any back-pedaling on the relationship after ministerial-level dialog is established.”
In 1996, the mainland fired missiles into the stretch of water between them before Taiwan’s first democratic presidential election. China currently keeps 1,200 conventional missiles aimed at Taiwan, according to a U.S. Defense Department Intelligence Agency report to be presented this week.
Before the closed-door talks began, Zhang, minister of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, shook the hand of Wang and called him by his formal title, which Wang had said previously that he hoped to be addressed by.
Pressure from China has led to Taiwan athletes competing at the Olympic Games as Chinese Taipei and joining the World Trade Organization as Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu (Chinese Taipei). Meanwhile, Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou referred to the People’s Republic of China as “the mainland,” including in his Jan. 1 new year’s address. His government retains the name Republic of China.
Yesterday, Ma said the meeting helps normalize relations with China and that he expects closer ties, according to an e-mailed statement from his office. Still, Taiwan stresses the principle of one China with different interpretations, he said.
Wang, who yesterday also referred to Zhang using his ministerial title, said the two sides didn’t discuss whether a meeting between Chinese head of state Xi Jinping and Ma would follow.
— With assistance by Henry Sanderson, and Adela Lin