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China, Taiwan Establish Hotline as Ties Improve

FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou, left, wave to the media during a summit in Singapore, Nov. 7, 2015.

China and Taiwan have officially set up a hotline that serves as an emergency tension-reducing mechanism, the latest effort to increase political dialogue between the two neighbors.

The hotline became operational Wednesday, according to a spokesperson for Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office, who added officials from both sides have already used the direct telephone setup to speak to each other.

"Just now, the director of the Taiwan Affairs Office, Zhang Zhijun, has talked over the phone with the minister of the Mainland Affairs Council, Hsia Li-yan, through the hotline," Ma Xiaoguang said at a press conference.

"Both sides have affirmed the great achievements made by each side to promote the cross-Strait relations through communications and positive interactions," Ma said, according to China's state broadcaster CCTV.

Taiwan officials have not commented on what was discussed in the phone call.

China and Taiwan agreed to set up the hotline at a historic November meeting between Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou and Chinese President Xi Jinping. That was the first meeting between leaders of the two sides in more than six decades.

The hotline, proposed by President Ma, is seen as a way to handle emergencies and prevent accidental clashes. Beijing officials have said it will help "manage differences and reduce misjudgments."

Taiwan split from China following a civil war in 1949. But Beijing still regards it as a breakaway province that will someday be reunified with the mainland.

Economic and political ties have improved in recent years, especially after the somewhat Beijing-friendly Ma Ying-jeou was elected president in 2008 and re-elected in 2012.

But there is deep suspicion in Taiwan about the warming ties with Beijing. Many analysts say this could result in a defeat for the Kuomintang, Taiwan's longtime ruling party in the January 2016 elections.