TAIPEI - Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) Minister Zhang Zhijun yesterday arrived in Taiwan, marking the first time that a top-ranked cross-strait representative has stepped foot on Taiwan proper in an official capacity.
Local media pronounced Zhang's visit as a historical moment, as it would be the first time an upper-echelon Chinese official planned to try and understand the opinions of everyday Taiwanese people.
Zhang lauded the visits between the TAO and Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) over the past six months, saying that Taipei and Beijing have secured a formal channel of communication that ensures bilateral dialogue, which is "something one never dared to dream about in the past."
Aside from urging his Chinese counterpart to listen to and understand the Taiwanese people, MAC Minister Wang Yu-chi noted his expectations for Zhang to experience the "energetic and diverse" aspects of Taiwanese society during his four-day visit.
Zhang was originally slated to visit in April, but the plans were delayed due to the activities of the Sunflower Movement.
Beijing was insistent about carrying out the meeting this year, as it would solidify the systemized meetings between the heads of the two "special" offices in Taiwan and China.
According to the TAO, the said meetings should be planned by both sides and carried out regularly. MAC Minister Wang paid a visit to Nanjing and Shanghai this February, but Beijing was not willing to call off Zhang's slated visit just because of the student protests; the move would consequently become a first in many potentially similar conditions and thus allow Taiwan to become the only side taking the initiative in cross-strait relations, reported local media.
And as Zhang had expressed a wish to listen to the opinions of the Taiwanese directly and understand the many aspects of Taiwanese society, he would be the first Chinese official to "experience" and hear the voices of the people without a spokesman.
No Political Negotiations or Agreements: MAC
There will be no political negotiations or signing of agreements during this visit, said Wang, who pointed out that the three main issues Zhang has aimed to discuss are cross-strait relations, the economic collaboration between Taiwan and China and the establishment of representative offices on both sides of the strait.
The MAC hopes for Zhang's itinerary to be as simple as possible; the TAO minister will not be meeting legislators or politicians aside from the mayors of New Taipei City, Taichung and Kaohsiung.
The Humanitarian Issue
While discussing the possibility of establishing representative offices on both sides of the strait, Wang and Zhang will undoubtedly bring up the issue of humanitarian visits, according to sources.
Local media outlets have reported that the two top ministers on cross-strait affairs yesterday reached a consensus that officials from each side are allowed to carry out humanitarian visits to detainees from their respective sides of the Taiwan Strait.
News of the consensus was announced by the MAC and TAO yesterday afternoon, after Wang and Zhang met in Taoyuan.