Relations between the two parties have intensified in the last two years in order to consolidate economic ties.
Since the fall of pro-independence Chen Shui-bian, who was strongly opposed to any dialogue with Beijing, mainland investments in the island have increased, direct flights have been established and two-way tourism has been promoted (without much success).
Chen’s visit is an attempt to breathe new life in free trade discussions after recent local elections saw Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang suffer major losses and opposition Democratic Progressive party make gains. For some analysts, the results are a clear signal by voters that their government should not get too cosy with Beijing.
Protests began yesterday in Taichung, when 30,000 people began shouting anti-mainland slogans in earnest.
Sino-Taiwanese talks will be held in the city over the next five days. It is the fourth such meeting since Taiwanese President Ma took office last year.
Many Taiwanese fear that a free-trade agreement could lead to the island being flooded by cheap goods from the mainland. If this were to happen major job losses would follow, further marginalising Taiwan at the international level.
People also fear that the island’s de facto independence might simply wither away as it becomes increasingly dependent on the mainland.
The government has tried to counter its critics by saying that without the accord Taiwan is likely to become even more marginalised by the Chinese juggernaut.