BEIJING – China and Taiwan on Tuesday held their first government-to-government talks since they split 65 years ago following a brutal civil war — a symbolic yet historic move between the former bitter rivals.
Taipei’s Wang Yu-chi, who oversees the island’s China policy, met his Beijing counterpart, Zhang Zhijun, in Nanjing on the first day of a four-day trip.
With sensitivities crucial, the room was neutrally decorated with no flags visible and nameplates on the table devoid of titles or affiliations.
Before leaving, Wang told reporters: “The visit does not come easy, it is the result of interactions between the two sides for many years.”
Nanjing, in eastern China, was the country’s capital when it was ruled by Wang’s Nationalist Party in the first half of the 20th century.
When they lost China’s civil war — which cost millions of lives — to Mao Zedong’s communists in 1949, 2 million supporters of Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China.
The island and the mainland have been governed separately ever since, both claiming to be the true government of China and only re-establishing contact in the 1990s through quasi-official organizations.
Tuesday’s meeting is the fruit of years of efforts to improve relations.
But Beijing’s Communist authorities still aim to reunite all of China under their rule, and view Taiwan as a rebel region awaiting reunification with the mainland — by force if necessary.
Over the decades Taipei has become increasingly isolated diplomatically, losing the Chinese seat at the U.N. in 1971 and seeing the number of countries recognizing it steadily whittled away. But it is supplied militarily by the United States and has enjoyed a long economic boom.
No official agenda has been released for the talks — widely seen as a symbolic, confidence-building exercise.
Taiwan is likely to focus on reaping practical outcomes from the discussions, such as securing economic benefits or security assurances, while China has one eye on long-term integration of the island, analysts say.
The political thaw comes after the two sides made cautious steps toward economic reconciliation in recent years.
Yet despite the much-touted detente, Taipei and Beijing have still shunned all official contact and negotiations have been carried out through proxies.
Analysts say only government-level officials can address the lingering sovereignty dispute.