China, Taiwan agree to regular communication

Beijing, Feb 11: China and Taiwan Tuesday agreed to regular communication between their cross-Taiwan Strait affairs departments.

The arrangement was announced after a meeting between Zhang Zhijun, head of the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office (SCTAO), and Wang Yu-chi, Taiwan’s mainland affairs chief, who arrived in Nanjing, capital of east China’s Jiangsu province, on Tuesday morning for a four-day visit, Xinhua reported.

Their meeting was the first between cross-Strait affairs chiefs since 1949.

The two sides agreed to promote cross-Strait relations on the basis of the 1992 Consensus and expect the communication mechanism to improve exchanges, understanding and mutual trust, said an SCTAO statement.

The new arrangement will not replace talks between the Chinese mainland’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) and its Taiwan counterpart the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), nor will it change the way other departments interact with each other.

The ARATS and SEF are non-governmental organisations founded in 1991 and 1990 respectively.

Official visits by members of cross-Strait affairs departments will increase. Zhang has accepted Wang’s invitation to visit Taiwan, according to the SCTAO.

The political basis for peaceful development of cross-Strait relations is to oppose Taiwan’s independence and adhere to the 1992 Consensus, said Zhang at the meeting.

He called for sticking to these tenets, progressing through cooperation and breaking down barriers.

The two sides agreed to push forward follow up agreements to the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, explore practical ways to jointly develop their economy and join in regional cooperation.

They agreed to allow ARATS and SEF to exchange offices “as early as possible” and promote cultural, educational and scientific exchanges.

The two sides will also try to settle a health insurance issue for college students studying on either side of the Strait.

Exchanges between the mainland and Taiwan had stalled since the Kuomintang, led by Chiang Kai-shek, fled to Taiwan in 1949 after being defeated in a civil war.

Business and personnel exchanges resumed in the late 1980s, and in the early 1990s the two sides started to engage with each other through the ARATS and the SEF.

ARATS-SEF talks have speeded up since 2008 and produced a number of important cross-Strait agreements, including an agreement to lift the ban on direct shipping, air transport and postal services in 2008 and the long awaited Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement in 2010.

The meeting between Zhang and Wang, the sitting cross-Strait affairs chiefs from the two sides, is considered an important breakthrough in promoting cross-Strait relations and may lead to regular exchanges of visits in the future.

The two diplomats first met informally on the sidelines of the economic leaders’ meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in Bali, Indonesia, last October when they agreed to mutual visits.

In his speech earlier Tuesday, Wang described his meeting with Zhang as “an unimaginable occasion in earlier years”.

“Being able to sit down and talk is a really valuable opportunity, considering that the two sides were once almost at war,” he said in the address.

Zhang agreed with him that such a meeting would have been impossible earlier and called for “a little more imagination” regarding cross-Strait relations.

“We meet under great attention and expectations and bear great responsibilities,” noted the mainland’s Taiwan affairs chief.

He said he believed the two sides were heading in a straight direction and would not take long to fulfill their purposes.

Cross-Strait relations have survived many ups and downs in the past 65 years and have evolved from military and political confrontation in earlier years to their historic turn toward peaceful development in 2008, Zhang said.