Taiwan says it will hold ministerial level talks with China next month. The two sides are likely to discuss issues that would advance Beijing’s goal of unifying the two separately ruled sides.
Taiwan said Tuesday its China policy architect, Wang Yu-chi, will meet his Chinese counterpart, Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun, in the southern city of Nanjing and in Shanghai from February 11 until February 14.
Wang told reporters in Taipei Tuesday the trip will not deal with sensitive political issues, but help establish a communication mechanism to avoid misunderstandings. He added that economic ties will be the focus of the meeting.
"It is simply to further mutual understanding and engage the Mainland Affairs Council and China’s State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, through these normal interactions, to promote progress on pushing forward business, this is the main goal," he said.
The two ministers also are expected to discuss establishing de facto consular offices. Those first-ever offices would service the surge in visits by Chinese and Taiwanese investors, and Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan.
Nathan Liu, an international affairs professor at Ming Chuan University in Taiwan, says the first such high-level meeting between the two sides could present an opportunity to discuss tough political issues if public opinion is favorable.
"This will be an ice-breaking movement leading to real political discussion or political issues. If the reaction from the general public is good, not too much trouble, I think they’ll just go ahead," he said.
Some opposition legislators in Taiwan have already expressed concern over the trip.
Reacting to the recent conviction of Chinese dissident Xu Zhiyong, senior opposition member Hong Cai-Long said Wang should convey that the Taiwanese people are highly concerned about human rights in China.
Ruling party legislator Lin De-Fu said Wang should speak with lawmakers before his trip.
"Before he leaves he should come to the Legislature and give an explanation and a report, taking suggestions from the political parties, I think he will take these into consideration and act appropriately on this trip," he said.
China and Taiwan have been separately ruled since the civil war of the 1940s, but Beijing claims sovereignty over the island and has threatened to use force if peaceful reunification fails. In 2008, the two sides broke their impasse with a series of trade, transit and investment deals worked out by semi-official negotiators.
Democratic Taiwan still shunned political talks because much of the island’s public prefers to keep a distance from its Communist neighbor. Last year, however, Chinese President Xi Jinping publicly urged Taiwan to start talking politics at an early date. On Tuesday, China's Taiwan Affairs Office called the meeting an important move to develop relations.
Economic powerhouse China has used investment and trade perks to sustain informal dialogue with Taiwan since 2008, and analysts say it now wants to start covering topics that it cares about more, namely reunification.
The business community would welcome talks that ease tension, making China and Taiwan a safer place for long-term investment. Taiwanese, however, may protest if the ministerial discussions touch on issues that invite reunification.
Yungtai Chang contributed to this report from Taipei.