Taiwan to raise press freedom in landmark China talks

TAIPEI - Taiwan said Monday it would raise the issue of press freedom with China at their first government-to-government talks since 1949, after media outlets were refused accreditation for this week's meeting.

The Mainland Affairs Council, which formulates the island's China policy, said its chairman Wang Yu-chi would "discuss issues related to equal exchanges of news information" when he meets Tuesday with his counterpart Zhang Zhijun, China's Taiwan Affairs Office chief.

"Press freedom is a universal value. We've repeatedly said that the most important thing regarding news exchange between the two sides is the free and equal flow of information," it said in a statement.

The talks in Nanjing in China's eastern Jiangsu province, and a later visit to Shanghai, are the fruit of years of efforts to normalise relations and mark the first official contact between sitting governments since a split six decades ago.

Two million supporters of the nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan - officially known as Republic of China - after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong's Communists in 1949. The island and the mainland have been governed separately ever since.

The mood surrounding the talks soured in Taiwan after Beijing refused to issue credentials to the Taipei-based Apple Daily and the US government-funded Radio Free Asia on the weekend.

China's decision also sparked rebukes from the Association of Taiwan Journalists (ATJ) and the affiliated International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) over what they described as an attack on journalists.

"Again this indicated that the Chinese government has gravely suppressed freedom of press," the ATJ said in a statement on Sunday. The IFJ said it also called on the governments of Taiwan and China to sign an "Agreement to Ensure News Freedom" and to immediately refrain from using visas or permits as "instruments of censorship".

Apple Daily was founded by Hong Kong business tycoon Jimmy Lai, an outspoken critic of human rights standards in China, while Radio Free Asia was established to provide an alternative to state-run media for people living under repressive regimes.

Taiwan's leading opposition Democratic Progressive Party also demanded Wang relay "serious protests" to China during his four-day trip.

Wang has previously said he wants to use the visit to raise issues including proposed liaison offices, bilateral efforts on regional economic integration and better healthcare for Taiwanese students studying on the mainland.

Ties between Taiwan and China have improved markedly since Ma Ying-jeou of the China-friendly Kuomintang party came to power in 2008 on platforms of beefing up trade and tourism links. He was re-elected in January 2012.