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The Taiwan Strait continues to narrow. Last week witnessed the highest-level contacts between Taiwan and mainland China since the 1949 civil war. The visit of Mr. Chen Yunlin to Taipei continues the bridge-building between the two sides and is a step forward in the eyes of all who seek peace and stability in the region. Remarkably, though, significant numbers of Taiwanese oppose reconciliation; their bitter opposition to talks with China is a troubling sign for cross-strait relations and Taiwan’s own politics.

Mr. Chen heads the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, the semi-official body in Beijing that manages relations with Taipei; its Taiwanese counterpart is the Straits Exchange Foundation. The status of the two organizations attests to the protocol that bedevils discussions between Taiwan and China. They cannot be official institutions because that would acknowledge the involvement of two equal governments, a concept anathema to Chinese who insist that Taiwan is a mere province that has been temporarily separated from the mainland. Thus the fiction of “unofficial” talks.

This visit was unthinkable a year ago. At that time, Mr. Chen Shui-bian was president of Taiwan and leader of the independence-minded Democratic Progressive Party. Beijing refused to have anything to do with him for fear of legitimizing him, his party and their agenda. The victory of Mr. Ma Ying-jeou in presidential elections earlier this year shifted the cross-strait dynamic. Mr. Ma is a member of the Kuomintang, which has a more moderate agenda and seeks a stable relationship with China. Mr. Ma took office pledging to rejuvenate the sputtering Taiwanese economy, rebuild relations with the United States, which had suffered during Mr. Chen’s time in office, and stabilize relations with China, primarily to help boost the economy.

China reciprocated to Mr. Ma’s olive branch. Within weeks of his taking office, the two sides agreed to regular charter flights that expanded the number of flights and destinations and let more mainland tourists come to Taiwan. The atmosphere changed: There has been a sense that the cross-strait relationship is on the right path and that additional stabilizing and mutually beneficial steps are possible. Mr. Chen’s visit was intended to realize those opportunities.

The two sides signed four agreements that substantially increase air and shipping links — the number of direct charter flights will triple, and service will include 16 more cities in China — deepen postal links, and facilitate cooperation on food safety. They also agreed to hold high-level talks every six months, with the next round focusing on financial issues.

The Taiwan business community has pressed for closer ties. They see their future interlinked with the mainland market. The new flights should help cut the costs of cross-strait business: Changes in routing, permitting more direct flights, will reduce travel time by as much as an hour and could halve fuel costs.

Increasing traffic across the strait will require subsidiary cost-cutting measures: expedited travel procedures, insurance, easier ways to exchange money. And a relationship that has been drained of much of its tension and is more stable is more conducive for business as well as a net plus for the entire region.

Incredibly, thousands, if not millions, of Taiwanese do not agree. Independence supporters deeply oppose Mr. Ma and any improvement in relations. They fear he will compromise Taiwan’s (de facto) independence and give up many of the island’s gains. For his part, Mr. Ma has insisted that he will safeguard Taiwan’s sovereignty: He has said the two sides must meet in an atmosphere of mutual respect and not “mutually deny” the other’s existence. He pledged that there will be no discussions of reunification during his term in office.

A reported half million Taiwanese demonstrated against Mr. Ma late last month. When Mr. Chen’s deputy visited Taiwan more than a week ago, he was physically assaulted by protesters. Thousands of protesters provided a steady cacophony throughout Mr. Chen’s visit, throwing eggs and bottles, confronting police and disrupting his schedule by virtually trapping him in a hotel where he was having dinner. He has been mocked on television and dogged in the streets. Protest is one thing; disrespect for visitors is another. These images sent across the world do not help Taiwan’s cause.

Improvement in cross-strait ties is crucial to regional security and prosperity. Of course, these first steps are just a beginning. China must go further and reduce the number of missiles targeted at Taiwan, provide more diplomatic breathing space by allowing Taipei to participate in international organizations, and show respect for Taiwan’s political and economic accomplishments. That would help win the hearts and minds of Taiwanese, which is the way to enduring and stable cross-strait relations — and regional peace.

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