Taiwan minister set for historic visit to China

Taiwan minister set for historic visit to China

TAIPEI - Taiwan's minister in charge of China affairs said Tuesday he plans to visit the mainland next month in a landmark trip that marks the first official contact between the two former bitter rivals in six decades.

Wang Yu-chi, chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council which formulates the island's China policy, is scheduled to fly to the mainland on February 11 to meet with his Chinese counterpart, Zhang Zhijun, China's Taiwan Affairs Office chief.

The meeting in Nanjing in China's eastern Jiangsu province symbolises persistent efforts to normalise relations in recent years after a decades-long freeze.

"The trip has crucial implications for further institutionalisation of the ties between the two sides of the Straits," Wang told a press briefing.

"As the first Mainland Affairs Council chairman to visit the mainland, I feel my responsibility is arduous and the road long."

In June 2010, Taiwan and China signed the landmark Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, a pact widely characterised as the boldest step yet towards reconciliation since the two were split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.

However, the hard-won trade pact, along with other achievements like direct flights, was the result of negotiations by quasi-official bodies from each side.

Taipei and Beijing have had no official contact in 65 years. Relations have improved significantly since Ma Ying-jeou of the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang party came to power in 2008. He was re-elected in January 2012.

"This meeting indicates that (Chinese President) Xi Jinping has more faith to solve the issues with Taiwan as China's prowess has been getting bigger and bigger," Professor Tung Chen-yuan of the National Chengchi University in Taipei told AFP.

The planned trip drew concerns from the DPP, the China-sceptic opposition whose former chief Chen Shui-bian had constantly irked Beijing with confrontational remarks while serving as the president in the eight years to 2008.

"The (planned meeting) must not touch on political issues such as the 'one China principle', ending of hostilities, a peace agreement, confidence-building measures, and political framework before reunification," Joseph Wu of DPP said.

Wang has guaranteed he will not discuss "any sensitive issues" with Zhang.

Wu called on Wang to voice concerns about China's human rights abuses while meeting Zhang, saying "if the Chinese government continues to repress human rights and freedom of speech, it would emerge as the biggest barrier to the ties between the two sides".

Wang said his council will give priority to the exchange of liaison offices, as well as the signing of goods trade, tax, earthquake monitoring and weather cooperative pacts.

Wang will visit the mausoleum of Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of the Republic of China (Taiwan's official title) and deliver a speech at Nanjing University the next day, before proceeding to Shanghai.

Beijing has refused to renounce the possibility of using force to take back the island, which it regards as a rebel region awaiting reunification with the mainland.

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