'Historic' visit hardly making history

'Historic' visit hardly making history
Security personnel protect Zhang with bullet-proof suitcases after anti-China protesters attempted to pour white paint on him, in Kaohsiung.

In 1993, when two chief negotiators of China and Taiwan met for talks for the first time, in Singapore, no effort was spared in ensuring a display of equal footing.

Four copies of the pacts signed at NOL Building were made. Two were inscribed in the traditional Chinese script that runs vertically, as used in Taiwan. Two were in simplified Chinese running horizontally, as in China.

Then came another headache: Which year to use? Taiwan marks its calendar by counting from the 1912 founding of the minguo, the Republic of China, Taiwan's official title. So what was 1993 in the Gregorian calendar would have been minguo 82. The solution: Omit the year altogether. The accords would go down in history as being marked with the date and month - but not the year.

There were other details, right down to how China's then Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits chairman Wang Daohan and Taiwan's then Straits Exchange Foundation chairman Koo Chen-fu swopped seats midway, due to a custom that the one on the right is for the "more senior".

Last Wednesday, on the first day of Mr Zhang Zhijun's visit here - the first by a Chinese official overseeing cross-strait policy, Taiwan's representative Wang Yu-chi was quizzed on a particularly pressing matter. Eagle-eyed reporters noticed that clay cups made for the occasion had the names of the Chinese delegation and their agency - Taiwan Affairs Office - carved.

Those for the Taiwan side included just their names but not their agency - Mainland Affairs Council (MAC).

Does this not "depress" Taiwan's standing relative to China's, asked a journalist.

Mr Wang laughed it off, telling the media not to "think too much". "It is a gift for the other side. We ourselves will be using the cups in the office and we're all from MAC. The point of putting names on mugs is so we don't use the wrong one."

That cross-strait ties appear to have moved on from the uber-sensitive stage 21 years ago when every single nuance was explored for fear of non-parity, to a breezier approach today, reflects the more stable state of the relationship.

But after years of warming ties, the momentum seems to have stalled, following the Sunflower protest in March against a services trade pact and increasing fears that closer economic ties mean an infiltration of Chinese political influence.

So did Mr Zhang's four-day trip to Taiwan ending yesterday help kick-start it?

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