China, Taiwan to consider exchanging liaison offices

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan and China have agreed to consider exchanging liaison offices in yet another sign of warming ties between the former rivals, officials said on March 21.

The offices could be used to improve relations and boost ties in areas such as trade, culture, education and emergency response, although no details have yet been specified.

The two sides agreed to discuss the proposal during a recent meeting between officials from Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation and its Chinese counterpart, the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait.

"We agree that such representative offices will better serve people from the two sides of the Strait and facilitate exchanges," said the Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan's China policy decision-making body.

It added that specific details will be discussed in the next meeting of the two sides, on a date yet to be fixed.

Dr George Tsai, a political science professor at Taipei's Chinese Culture University, told AFP: "This will mark a milestone development in the cross-Strait ties.

"In addition to symbolic meaning, the swapping of such offices is expected to institutionalise and stabilise the ties. In a word, the ties will be less likely to move backward once the offices are set up."

The idea of exchanging liaison offices was first mooted in 2008 after President Ma Ying-jeou of the China-friendly Kuomintang party came to power on a platform of beefing up trade and tourism links.

Since then Taiwan and the Chinese mainland have opened up direct flights and forged 18 agreements covering a broad range of fields, from trade to banking and crime-fighting.

President Ma, the detente initiator, was re-elected in January 2012 for a second and final four-year term.

China still considers Taiwan part of its territory awaiting unification even though the island has ruled itself since 1949 at the end of a civil war.