Beijing (AsiaNews) - After 10 years of diplomatic freeze, amid smiles and enthusiastic statements, the first official meeting between high-level Chinese and Taiwanese political representatives has opened. On the negotiating table are the questions of direct flights (interrupted since 1949), economic exchange, and the enhancement of bilateral tourism. Doubts remain over the question of visas, since Beijing considers Taiwan "a rebel province" and not an independent entity.
The Taiwanese delegation, composed of 19 members, is headed by Chiang Pin-kung, chairman of the quasi-governmental Straits Exchange Foundation. The choice of the delegation's head is in itself a masterstroke of diplomacy: although he is a leading representative of the political life of the island, he does not hold any government post, avoiding the need for Beijing to acknowledge Taiwan's independence. Nonetheless, the group also includes two deputy ministers of the new government of Taipei, a demonstration of the importance of this meeting.
The Chinese group is led by Chen Yunlin, head of the semi-official Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait. At the opening of the talks, Chen stated that "the populations of both sides of the Strait have high expectations for these meetings, which need to produce real results in order to soften the tone between the two governments. Improving our relations depends on how the negotiations proceed".
Chiang was even more enthusiastic, adding: "These negotiations constitute a real, peaceful relationship between us. We have established mutual trust". The 75-year-old businessman emphasises that the primary aim of the encounter is to clear the way for 36 charter flights every weekend, connecting Taiwan and continental China. In this way, "hundreds of thousands of tourists can be taken each year from one side to the other. Our aim is to reach one million".
In particular, this involves the opening of four Taiwanese airports - Taipei, Taichung, Taoyuan, and Kaohsiung - and the same number of Chinese airports - Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Xiamen - to guarantee the best service for tourists. It is not yet clear what the decision will be on the question of visas. Taiwan, like China, requires tourists to obtain visas in advance, but this would require Beijing to recognise a new international entity, a step it is not ready to take.
This encounter represents the best result obtained so far by the new administration of Taipei, headed by the nationalist Ma Ying-jeou, who has repeatedly emphasised that he wants to improve relations with Beijing, and above all commercial exchange, in the name of autonomy, and not of independence. Already today, in spite of the eight year presidency of the pro-independence Chen Shui-bian (considered an enemy by the Chinese government), the island is China's biggest trade partner.
For its part, China seems to appreciate the signals sent by the "rebel province": after the historic meeting between president Hu Jintao and the current secretary of the nationalist Chinese party of Taiwan, which took place last May 26, the former ambassador in Japan was appointed as head of the office for Taiwanese affairs in the state council.