Beijing might consider removing a portion of its missile arsenal in South China, a long-held precondition by Taiwan officials for peaceful cross-Straits ties, a mainland expert said Wednesday.
The possibility of the mainland's missile removal should not be excluded, according to Li Jiaquan, a senior researcher with the Institute of Taiwan studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, ahead of new round of talks next month between the two sides.
"(Removing the missiles) would be a goodwill gesture by the mainland toward Taiwan," Li said.
But he emphasized that the missiles are not targeting Taiwan and are positioned at their current location to safeguard national safety. It is thus impossible for the mainland to remove them all, he added.
According to the island's defense officials, the mainland has nearly 1,500 missiles pointed at Taiwan.
Li's remarks come after two key instances in the past days. Yang Yi, spokesman of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, gave a positive response to the mainland's reported plan to remove regional missiles at a press conference yesterday.
On Tuesday, Raymond Burghardt, chairman of the Washington-based American Institute in Taiwan, said the United States plans to resume arms sales to Taiwan.
Yang expressed firm opposition to US arms sales to Taiwan.
"We strongly oppose US arms sales to Taiwan and our stance is consistent, clear and resolute," Yang said.
Cross-Straits relations have improved since Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou of Kuomintang came into power in May. Both sides have established closer economic and cultural exchanges. But Ma has said the missiles remain a big hurdle to warmer relations.
Yang's overture, however, signaled a departure from Beijing's practice of shunning the issue of removing missiles from South China.
At the press conference, Yang did not attempt to deny the media that the mainland plans to remove "one-third of the missiles targeting Taiwan" before next March or April and said: "We hope both sides can make joint efforts to get prepared for addressing political difficulties in the future."
The mainland has recently expressed a strong desire to open political talks as soon as possible, but Taipei has backed off from discussions and has said "the time is not ripe".
"The mainland could accept the present cross-Straits status quo, but if it remains so in the long term, it will divide China," said Wu Nengyuan, director of the Institute of Taiwan Studies at the Fujian Academy of Social Sciences.
He added that it seems that Ma is delaying political and military talks indefinitely in a compromise with the opposition pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party to stabilize his power on the island.
"So there is a possibility that the mainland is making some concessions, including removing some missiles, to show its sincerity of pushing forward peaceful negotiations," he said.
Li said removing the missiles could also serve as a signal to the US, which is pushing with its plan to resume arms sales to Taiwan.