TAIPEI (AP) ― China has sent its first ever ministerial-level official to Taiwan for four days of meetings to rebuild ties with the self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its own, after mass protests in Taipei set back relations earlier this year.
Zhang Zhijun, minister of Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office, reached the island’s main airport just before noon Wednesday to speak privately with his government counterpart. He sidestepped scores of anti-China protesters to enter a nearby hotel for the talks.
China and Taiwan have been separately ruled since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s. China sees the island as part of its territory that eventually must be reunified ― by force if necessary ― despite a Taiwanese public largely wary of the notion of Chinese rule.
In 2008, Beijing set aside its military threats to sign agreements binding its economy to that of the investment-hungry island.
Dialogue opened that year as Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou agreed to put off political issues to build trust and improve the island‘s economy through tie-ups with China’s much larger one. The two sides have signed 21 deals, last year lifting two-way trade to $124.4 billion and bringing in about 3 million mainland tourists, who were once all but banned.
But in March, hundreds of student-led protesters forcibly occupied parliament in Taipei to stop ratification of a two-way service trade liberalization pact. The 24-day action dubbed the Sunflower Movement spiraled into the thousands, many of whom demanded an end to Taiwan‘s engagement with China, which they still see as an enemy.