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China, Taiwan Progress Will Take Time


China and Taiwan, at odds for more than six decades, have taken a symbolic step forward with the highest level talks since the end of China's civil war in 1949.

But significant reconciliation between the former bitter rivals is likely to move slowly and deliberately, according to political observers.

Taipei has embraced growing commercial and cultural ties with Beijing following Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou's election in 2008.

Cross-Strait trade has nearly doubled over the course of his presidency as Taiwanese companies have invested hundreds of billions of dollars in the mainland. Tourism has increased as well, as nearly 3 million Chinese traveled to Taiwan last year.

In 2010, the two sides signed a landmark trade deal, the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, and Ma has restored direct flights and other measures.

But political rapprochement has been harder to forge.

This week's talks between the heads of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) and China's Taiwan Affairs Office did not result in any formal agreements, although negotiators are optimistic.

"[Tuesday's] meeting is just a beginning, but it will push forward cross-straits relations in the right direction," said Wang Yu-chi, who directs Taiwan's MAC.

Breakaway province vs. separate entity

China considers Taiwan a breakaway province, while the self-ruled island sees itself as an entity separate from the mainland.

These varying perspectives are likely to color political negotiations as they move forward - with Taiwan looking to stick to issues such as trade, culture and education, as well as the politically-charged topic of visitation rights for Taiwanese prisoners in China.

Political reconciliation, however, remains a sensitive issue on the freewheeling, democratic island.

Beijing's long-term goal, to reunify Taiwan with the mainland, remains a tough sell across the strait, according to Alan Romberg of Washington's Stimson Center.

"If you ask the question 'do you want unification?' 70 to 80 percent of the [Taiwanese] people say 'no.' So, there's a lot of work to be done in order to move in that direction," Romberg said.

Taiwan's China-friendly government is also limited by the strength of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party in parliament.

"Although Beijing is somewhat impatient with the pace of development, on the one hand they do understand the political constraints in Taiwan," said Romberg.

"And so, while maybe they think Taipei could do a bit more even within those constraints than the Ma government thinks it can do, they also understand this is not something that can be rushed in a couple years or so," he added.

The process is moving forward and a second round of talks is expected in Taiwan, possibly in April.
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    Mark Snowiss

    Mark Snowiss is a Washington D.C.-based multimedia reporter.  He has written and edited for various media outlets including Pacifica and NPR affiliates in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @msnowiss and on Google Plus

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