China and Taiwan are holding their first government-to-government talks Tuesday since they split 65 years ago after a brutal civil war -- a symbolic yet historic move between the former bitter rivals.
Taipei’s Wang Yu-chi, who oversees the island’s China policy, arrived in Nanjing for a meeting with his Beijing counterpart Zhang Zhijun on the first day of a four-day trip, a Taiwanese official said.
The eastern Chinese city was the country’s capital when it was ruled by Wang’s Kuomintang, or Nationalist, party in the first half of the 20th century.
When they lost China’s civil war -- which cost millions of lives -- to Mao Zedong’s communists in 1949, 2 million supporters of the Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China.
The island and the mainland have been governed separately ever since, both claiming to be the true government of China and only re-establishing contact in the 1990s through quasi-official organizations.
Tuesday’s meeting is the fruit of years of efforts to improve relations.
But Beijing’s communist authorities still aim to reunite all of China under their rule, and view Taiwan as a rebel region awaiting reunification with the mainland, by force if necessary.
Over the decades Taipei has become increasingly isolated diplomatically, losing the Chinese seat at the U.N. in 1971 and seeing the number of countries recognizing it steadily whittled away, but it is supplied militarily by the United States and has enjoyed a long economic boom.
While no official agenda has been released for the talks -- widely seen as a symbolic, confidence-building exercise -- Taiwan’s Wang last month said they had “crucial implications for further institutionalization of ties between the two sides.”
Taiwan is likely to focus on reaping practical outcomes from the discussions, such as securing economic benefits or security assurances, while China has one eye on long-term integration of the island, analysts say.
The political thaw comes after the two sides made cautious steps towards economic reconciliation in recent years.
As the heirs of a pan-Chinese government, Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang party accepts the “One China” principle and is opposed to seeking independence for the island.
Since it returned to power on the island in elections in 2008, President Ma Ying-jeou has overseen a marked softening in tone from Taipei towards its giant neighbor, restoring direct flights between the two sides and other measures.
In June 2010, Taiwan and China signed the landmark Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, a pact widely characterized as the boldest step yet towards reconciliation.
Yet despite the much-touted detente, Taipei and Beijing have still shunned all official contact, and negotiations have been carried out through proxies.
While these bodies -- the quasi-official Straits Exchange Foundation representing Taiwan and the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits for China -- have achieved economic progress, they lack the power to broach deeper-held differences.
Analysts say that only government-level officials can address the lingering sovereignty dispute that sees each side claiming to be the sole legitimate government of China. (AFP)