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Features - Editor, 3 November 2008

China and Taiwan Meet To Strengthen Economic And Trade Ties



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Cross-strait economic and trade ties are in the news this week as Chen Yunlin, China’s top negotiator with Taiwan, visits the island this week to discuss matters of mutual concern. The talks will focus strictly on economic and trade cooperation between China and Taiwan, avoiding potentially volatile political issues. In June of this year, officials from both China and Taiwan agreed to set up permanent offices in each others territories, and together with this week’s meeting, these are seen as significant steps forward in the improvement of cross-strait ties.

Chen Yunlin, as president of the Association of Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, is the highest ranking Chinese official to visit Taiwan in sixty years, and will be heading up a delegation of sixty officials for three days of negotiations and discussions with their Taiwanese counterparts under the leadership of Chiang Pin-kung, chairman of Taiwan’s Straits Exchange Foundation. Topics on the agenda for discussion will include agreements on direct air and shipping links, which have been restricted since 1949, as well as the possibility of increasing the number of mainland tourists permitted to visit Taiwan. Food safety, postal exchanges and the current global financial crisis will also be discussed.

Taiwan split from China in 1949 following a civil war, with around two million Nationalist Chinese fleeing to Taiwan and setting up a government there. China has regarded Taiwan as a sovereign territory, albeit renegade, since then, threatening to enter into a war with Taiwan if it should declare independence. Cross-straits talks on economic and trade cooperation began in 1993 with a second meeting held in Shanghai in 1998. Further talks were cancelled when the Taiwanese President at the time, Lee Teng-hui, proposed that China and Taiwan treat each other as separate states. Taiwan’s new president, Ma Ying-jeou, who was elected in May this year, opposes unification with China, but is not pushing for total independence. He does, however, see the benefits of strengthening economic ties with mainland China and its currently robust economy.

While many see the benefits of strengthening economic and trade ties between China and Taiwan, others have voiced their reservations. Despite the fact that President Ma has attempted to reassure the public that the talks in no way indicate a concession to Beijing, Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party have been outspoken in accusing him of sacrificing sovereignty for the sake of economic benefits. The DPP are planning to stage protests, an action which the President acknowledges they have every right to take, as long as protests are legal and peaceful – and thousands of police are being deployed to ensure that they are.

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