The much-anticipated meeting between Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Minister Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) and his Chinese counterpart, Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) Minister Zhang Zhijun (張志軍), took place in Nanjing, China, on Tuesday. This meeting is important to the development of cross-strait relations for a number of reasons.
China made some concessions to make Taiwanese officials willing to visit, and Zhang referred to Wang as “Minister Wang.” Obviously, after talking about power and following last year’s APEC meeting, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has new ideas about Beijing’s policy toward further political and substantial cross-strait relations.
Still, on the whole, China remains very careful when it comes to Wang’s title, which shows how China currently views cross-strait political relations. The only time the title “minister” was used to refer to Wang was during the meeting with Zhang. In reports, Wang was still referred to as the “responsible official of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council” in China’s Chinese-language reports and as “Taiwan’s mainland affairs chief” in its English-language coverage.
Also worthy of note is that Zhang and the Chinese media completely avoided the use of the term “Mainland Affairs Council under the Executive Yuan.” This shows that China was merely trying to create an atmosphere beneficial to getting leaders from the two sides to meet and that China has not yet decided to accept the Republic of China’s (ROC) sovereignty and right to govern, to avoid a situation in which “two Chinas” or “one China, two governments” occurs.
Furthermore, observers were left with the feeling that little was achieved at the meeting. Wang and Zhang agreed to give Taiwanese students studying in China access to Chinese medical insurance, but failed to reach agreement on humanitarian visitation rights for Taiwanese in China and Taiwan’s participation in Asian regional economic groups, which shows that the two sides still differ greatly when it comes to more sensitive and important issues. China still restricts the ability of Taiwanese organizations in China to make humanitarian visits to Taiwanese citizens in Chinese prisons, saying there are additional conditions that need to be negotiated.
However, it can be said that China is extremely willing to see the exchange of liaison offices as soon as possible to further cross-strait relations. As for Taiwan’s participation in regional economic groups, China said it hopes cross-strait trade relations will be improved first, while at the same time building mutual dependency, before allowing Taiwan to participate in regional economic organizations in an effort to avoid distancing the two sides from each other.
Neither Wang nor Zhang commented on a meeting between President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Xi during their post-meeting press conferences — most likely because conditions are not yet ripe and because of the overall sensitivity of the issue.
The Wang-Zhang meeting was mostly symbolic, but does demonstrate a real improvement in cross-strait relations facilitated by the Ma administration since it came into office in 2008. Since the leaders of both sides were willing to come up with a mechanism for the normalization of meetings, this suggests a brighter outlook for development of cross-strait relations. Although the first Wang-Zhang meeting did not see a lot of substantial results, with a mechanism like this in place, many cross-strait issues will be easier to discuss and solve in the future.