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A step toward common cross-Straits dream

By David Gosset | China Daily | Updated: 2014-02-18 07:49

As Chinese New Year celebrations wound down and the Lantern Festival on Feb 14 approached, a historic meeting took place in Nanjing between Wang Yu-chi, the head of Taiwan's mainland affairs council, and Zhang Zhijun, director of China's Taiwan Affairs Office.

The meeting on Feb 11 marked the first time since the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949 that the two sides have held such high-level official talks, and they agreed to establish a permanent communication channel that will complement the semi-governmental bridge between the Taipei-based Straits Exchange Foundation and the Beijing-based Association of Relations Across the Straits set up in the 1990s.

The talks between Wang and Zhang did not clarify all the ambiguities surrounding the Taiwan Straits, but they signaled that beyond increasingly strong business and financial synergies both sides want to see more political convergence.

The efforts toward political understanding are concomitant with a de facto growing economic interdependence. Thirty percent of Taiwan's exports go to the mainland and another 15 percent to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Following the election of Ma Ying-jeou as the Taiwan "president" in 2008, the number of commercial flights between the mainland and the island has grown - there are now more than 600 a week - and almost 2 million mainland residents visited Taiwan last year.

However, the new political momentum between Beijing and Taipei has to be interpreted in the context of the 10 year period that began on March 14 last year when Xi Jinping became president of the PRC.

When Xi met a senior Taiwanese envoy, Vincent Siew, who was Taiwan "vice-president" from 2008 to 2012, at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum last October, he explicitly signaled to the island and to the world that this decade might also see the Chinese political divide bridged.

Interestingly, before leaving Taipei, Wang Yu-chi, the head of Taiwan's mainland affairs council, suggested that the most suitable occasion for a meeting between Ma and Xi could be the APEC leaders' forum in which the participants are referred to as "member economies". This year's APEC forum will take place in Beijing, well ahead of the "presidential elections" in Taiwan in 2016.

If Deng Xiaoping's political genius was the source of Hong Kong's "One Country, Two Systems", Xi is ideally positioned to design a framework that would take into account the specifics of the Taiwan question. After spending 17 years in Fujian, culturally a mirror of Taiwan, including three in Xiamen, which neighbours Jinmen, Xi has gained truly unique insights on Taiwanese economic and political dynamics.

In Fujian, he certainly had many occasions to reflect on the historic Chinese dream of unity, and to meditate on the opening of Luo Guanzhong's novel The Three Kingdoms: "The world under heaven, after a long period of division, tends to unite." In his New Year message, Xi declared that the "Chinese people seek to realize the Chinese Dream, the great renaissance of the Chinese nation". In a time of "comprehensive deepening of reforms" such a dream would not be complete without a peaceful reunification.

One hundred and three years after Sun Yat-sen was elected the first president of the Republic of China in the "southern capital", 77 years after the Nanjing massacre, the meeting between Wang and Zhang, organized in a highly symbolic location, was a necessary step on the long road toward Chinese renaissance and world peace.

The author is director of the Academia Sinica Europaea at China Europe International Business School, Shanghai, Beijing & Accra, and founder of the Euro-China Forum.

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