Taiwan vice president-elect Vincent Siew met briefly with Chinese President Hu Jintao on Saturday afternoon, a historic moment in strained China-Taiwan relations, with both saying they wanted closer economic ties. ( Reuters )
China, which has about 170 allies including the world's most powerful nations, has claimed self-ruled Taiwan as its territory since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 and pledged to bring the island under its rule, by force if necessary.
Political differences have effectively barred high-level contact between the two sides for the past six decades.
"The visit signals in concrete terms a beginning of detente across the Strait," said Lin Chong-pin, a former Taiwan government official and president of the Taipei-based Foundation on International and Cross-strait Studies. "So far that (detente) has only been atmospheric."
Siew and Hu talked one-on-one, mostly in private, for 20 minutes with 12 delegates each at the April 11-13 Boao Forum for Asia, which takes place every year in Hainan province of southern China. They sat side by side after shaking hands.
"Economic development is the mutual expectation of people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait," Siew told Hu, calling himself an "old soldier" of economic policy.
"I'd like to exchange ideas with Mr. Siew on the issue of economic cooperation across the Taiwan Strait," Hu said in televised remarks.
Siew, who was premier in the 1990s, also said he wanted an early launch of weekend chartered flights between the two sides, which now bar direct routes for security reasons, and an increase in Chinese tourists in Taiwan, Taiwan television reported.
The two sides have not met formally since the 1990s. They avoided politics in the live broadcast portions of their meeting.
Siew is attending China's annual high-level annual conference for government and business leaders as chairman of the private, Taiwan-based Cross-Strait Common Market Foundation.
He traveled with Su Chi, a defense specialist and former legislator from Siew's Nationalist Party (KMT), which ruled all of China before fleeing to Taiwan after the civil war, as well as with a handful of scholars and businesspeople.
Su described the meeting as "candid and harmonious" with "harmonious chemistry."
On Friday night, China's Taiwan Affairs Office Director Chen Yunlin met for dinner with Siew's delegation.
Siew was unlikely to make any policy announcements, since he does not take office until May 20, and because of that timing Hu was unlikely to make any solid offers, analysts said.
Taiwan voters remain divided on how close to get to China, with widespread support for better trade ties competing with concerns about a tighter political relationship.
Before Siew's departure, the activist group Taiwan Friends of Tibet passed on a letter for Hu, urging China to ease its crackdown on protesters in Tibet, where a deadly riot on March 14 has set into motion a chain of suppressed demonstrations.
Siew was the running mate of President-elect Ma Ying-jeou, who won by a landslide on March 22. They campaigned on stronger trade and transit ties, including a common market, with China despite continued political tensions.