China and Taiwan are gearing up for their first government-to-government meeting in more than six decades tomorrow, but analysts say renewed political ties between the former bitter rivals may still be a long way off.
Mainland Affairs Council Minister Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) is scheduled to fly to China tomorrow to meet Taiwan Affairs Office Director Zhang Zhijun (張志軍) for days of talks in Nanjing.
When the much-anticipated visit was announced at a press conference last month, Wang said it had “crucial implications for further institutionalization of the ties between the two sides of the [Taiwan] Strait.”
“It has a symbolic meaning. It introduces more confidence and trust between the two sides,” Peking University international studies professor Jia Qingguo (賈慶國) said, adding that it could bring about modest improvements in cooperation.
While Taiwan is likely to focus on reaping practical outcomes from the visit, such as securing economic benefits or security assurances, Jia said, China has more of an eye toward long-term integration of Taiwan.
“From the mainland perspective, [China] probably attaches more importance to accelerating the process of economic integration, and also with a view to political unification in the long run,” Jia said.
Taiwan wants to use the visit to raise several issues, including proposed liaison offices, bilateral efforts on regional economic integration and better healthcare for Taiwanese studying in China.
The political thaw of a decades-long stalemate comes after the two sides have made cautious steps toward economic reconciliation in recent years.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) came to power in 2008, presiding over a marked softening in tone from Taipei toward its giant neighbor and launching direct flights between the two sides.
In June 2010, Taiwan and China signed the landmark Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, a pact widely characterized as the boldest step yet toward reconciliation.
Yet despite the much-touted detente, Taipei and Beijing have still shunned all official contact and negotiations since 2008 have been carried out through proxies.
While these proxies — the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) — have secured economic progress, they lacked the power to broach deeper-held differences.
Analysts say only government-level officials can settle the crux of a lingering sovereignty dispute that sees each side claiming to be the sole legitimate government of China.
“The two government units will be authorized to handle policy-oriented affairs, while SEF and ARATS could be somewhat weakened in their functions,” Chinese Culture University political science professor George Tsai (蔡瑋) said.
Analysts will be watching the meeting closely to see if it could pave the way for talks between Ma and his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping (習近平), although chances of that happening any time soon are slim.
“Such [a] proposal could be dictated by the outcome of the coming meeting,” Tsai said.
“Both sides are crossing the river by feeling for stones,” he said, quoting a Chinese proverb to describe the cautious path Taipei and Beijing are following in the hope of greater progress.