TAIPEI (Reuters) - Top officials from Taiwan and China signed deals on daily direct flights, new cargo routes and food safety on Tuesday during Beijing’s highest-level visit to its political rival in 60 years.
China negotiator Chen Yunlin also said he aimed to normalise financial ties with Taiwan amid the global financial crisis.
Communist China has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s forces won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek’s KMT fled to Taiwan. Beijing has vowed to bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary.
Chen and his Taiwan counterpart, P.K. Chiang, signed 13 agreements, putting aside old security and sovereignty concerns.
“I think history will remember that this event happened,” Chen told a Taiwan’s official after the signings. “Although there are a lot of difficulties for peaceful development between the two sides, we’re making a lot of efforts.”
Their deals triple the number of direct China-Taiwan charter flights, let planes cross between the two sides daily, add Chinese airports to the destination list and shorten routes.
The two sides also agreed to begin direct air and sea cargo shipments, open postal links and notify each other quickly of any food safety issues following China’s tainted milk powder scandal.
Foreign business groups, eager to move personnel and goods smoothly between the two sides, welcomed the agreements, but travel agents want China to let more people visit Taiwan.
“Adding more flights definitely has its advantage, but the biggest problem is the collateral that Chinese tourists pay,” said Shen Ya-ching with Green Tour in Taipei. “They can’t do it.”
Ties have warmed rapidly since China-friendly Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou took office in May, paving the way for mid-June talks in Beijing, the first in about a decade.
Ma is walking a fine line between helping Taiwan’s economy by tying it more to the booming markets in China and appealing to voters at home by keeping a political distance from Beijing.
Demonstrators led by Taiwan’s main opposition party kicked off an evening rally and second all-night campout on Tuesday after police forced isolated protesters away from meeting venues.
Since Monday, thousands of protesters have used loudspeakers and banners to condemn China and accuse Ma of selling out.
The negotiators also charted their next round of talks, which are likely to take place in China in early 2009.
Joint criminal law enforcement, legal protection for Taiwan investors in China and more food safety cooperation in light of the tainted milk powder scandal that has shaken Beijing should make the agenda, Taiwan’s negotiator said.
The early 2009 round should also focus on weathering the global financial crisis by “normalising,” “tightening” and “systematising” cooperation, Chen said. Talks will cover banking, securities and futures markets.
Taiwan’s flagging economy has more to gain from cooperation, though China’s GDP growth slowed sharply in the third quarter.
Negotiators will also talk next year about letting banks from each side set up branches on the other.
The negotiators, who met in a heavily guarded hillside hotel, have indicated they would not discuss knotty political issues during Chen’s visit, which ends on Friday.
Additional reporting by Lin Miao-jung