Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2014-02-11 03:31 PM
The encounter was the first official meeting between the two top Cabinet officials of each side responsible for cross-straits affairs since the Communists took power in China and the Kuomintang fled to Taiwan in 1949. The event was being closely scrutinized for any signs that they would move to closer relations or even prepare for a summit meeting between the two presidents, Ma Ying-jeou and Xi Jinping.
The MAC described the Nanjing meeting as “an important milestone in the positive development, realistic interaction and move toward the future of cross-straits relations.”
At his news conference following the three hours of talks, Wang said the two sides had agreed to establish a framework for direct contacts, which would benefit the resolution of practical matters. The link would not interfere with the existing relationship between the two semi-official bodies, Taiwan’s Straits Exchange Foundation and China’s Association for Relations across the Taiwan Straits, he said.
Departing for Nanjing at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport Tuesday morning, Wang told reporters the two sides would not sign any documents during or after the event.
Taiwan’s cable TV stations showed footage of Wang stepping briskly forward to shake Zhang’s hands as both men produced wide smiles for the cameras. Members of the Taiwanese delegation stepped forward one by one to do the same before taking their place at the discussion table in the former Chinese capital’s Purple Palace.
In what was widely interpreted as a breakthrough, both men addressed each other as “chairman” and “director,” using their official titles. In the past, China always strongly resisted using any official titles for Taiwanese officials because it never recognized the island as a sovereign and independent nation with its own government. Chinese officials and media even went as far as naming President Ma as “Mister Ma.” In another slight departure from that practice, Chinese media also made direct mentions of the MAC, but did not describe Wang as the MAC minister or chairman.
In his opening remarks, Wang said he hoped “Director Zhang” would soon have the opportunity of visiting Taiwan, but no timetable was mentioned. The Chinese official said that breaking through the difficulties in cross-strait relations would need some imagination.
“There is not only a need for imagination, but also for determination to realize and confront the issues everybody is concerned with together,” Wang responded.
Both sides mentioned the so-called “1992 Consensus,” which allegedly allowed each side to hold its own interpretation of the One China idea. The existence of a consensus has been rejected by Taiwan’s opposition and by many observers. Neither Wang nor Zhang made any public reference to either One China or the “Each Side His Own Interpretation” part of the consensus.
Reporters were later asked to leave the room as the two 14-member delegations began their discussions, which lasted about three hours.
In a news release after the talks, the MAC said the meeting heralded the beginning of a framework for communication. Wang mentioned the need for a Taiwanese representative office in China to help Taiwanese nationals in the event of restrictions of freedom. Both sides agreed to continue and study possibilities in that respect, the MAC statement said.
On the health insurance issue, Zhang said he was prepared to make an effort to extend adequate medical care and insurance to Taiwanese students, while Wang promised the inclusion of Chinese students, the MAC said.
China asked for a more practical treatment of Chinese reporters working in Taiwan. Wang replied that both sides should be discussing the general improvement of the equal exchange of news and information between both sides, which would benefit both news environments.
The MAC minister emphasized that Taiwan’s drive to join the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership would “deepen and expand cross-straits economic cooperation,” the statement said. “The higher the level of economic connection between Taiwan and the region, or even the world, the more the people would be confident about and support cross-straits economic liberalization,” the MAC said.
Wang and Zhang already met briefly once before, in the margin of the 2013 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit on the Indonesian resort island of Bali last October. The Chinese official referred to the encounter, saying they had been strangers then, but were now familiar with each other and would certainly become friends after more meetings in the future.
The next APEC meeting, later this year in Beijing, has been mentioned by Taiwanese officials as the perfect site for an encounter between Ma and Xi. The Chinese side however has been reluctant because that would imply the internationalization of what it considers as a ‘domestic problem.’
In the weeks leading up to the meeting, the Legislative Yuan passed a motion barring Wang from making any major concessions or from signing any key agreements or memoranda. The MAC chief reportedly promised he would not touch on topics such as the presidents, democracy and official country names.
The opposition has repeatedly warned against any major concessions which might harm Taiwan’s basic democratic values, sovereignty and international position.
The vast majority of the public approves of direct contacts between Taiwanese and Chinese government officials, but not of the secrecy with which the Ma Administration surrounds the talks, Democratic Progressive Party Chairman Su Tseng-chang said.
He also wondered whether the government would be prepared to make exaggerated and dangerous concessions just for the sake of an eventual meeting by Ma with Xi.
Critics have said that in order to cover up his failure to improve Taiwan’s economy, Ma might try to enter the history books as the first president to meet with his Chinese counterpart.