Shanghai, Taipei officials meet amid tensions

Taipei city Mayor Ko Wen-je (left) displays a Shanghai poster map received from Shanghai official Sha Hailin during a dinner at the city hall in Taipei, Taiwan on August 22.
Taipei city Mayor Ko Wen-je (left) displays a Shanghai poster map received from Shanghai official Sha Hailin during a dinner at the city hall in Taipei, Taiwan on August 22.PHOTO: EPA

A key leader of China's financial hub, Shanghai, has visited Taipei despite the chill in cross-strait ties since the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party's leader Tsai Ing-wen took office as President in May.

Mr Sha Hailin, a standing committee member of the Communist Party in Shanghai and head of the United Front Work Department there, met Taipei City mayor Ko Wen-je at the annual Taipei-Shanghai forum yesterday.

The Shanghai official is the highest-level mainlander to visit Taiwan since Ms Tsai's inauguration nearly three months ago.

In a sign that cross-strait people-to-people exchanges are not frozen although high-level exchanges have all but stopped, the two key cities signed three agreements, including cooperation in district management, film festivals and marathons.

But outside the Regent Hotel where the meeting was held, sparks flew with dozens of anti-China protesters shouting slogans such as "Expel Sha Hailin" and "Expel pro- paganda communist".

The protesters, who had also rallied outside the airport when the Shanghai team arrived on Monday, viewed the visit as being intended to promote Taiwan's unification with China.

Responding to a reporter's question on what he thought of the protests, Mr Sha said he believed most Taiwanese still supported the peaceful development of cross- strait ties. "For my visit... there is no 'secret deal', as some people claim. Everything is open and transparent," he added.

As an example of practical cooperation, Mr Sha cited the 26 cooperation deals inked between the two cities since the inaugural twin-cities forum in 2010.

In his 25-minute speech at the opening of the forum , Mr Sha reiterated Beijing's stand that the peaceful development of cross-strait ties over the past eight years was based on both sides' adherence to the 1992 Consensus, a tacit agreement between the two sides that there is one China, with each side having its own interpretation of what "one China" means.

Ms Tsai has refused to acknowledge the 1992 Consensus unlike her predecessor Ma Ying-jeou, under whom cross-strait ties had thrived.

Mr Ko for his part said: "We hope Beijing can understand and respect Taiwan's position on democracy and freedom."

Professor Wang Kaocheng, dean of Tamkang University's College of International Studies, said Beijing, to some extent, is showing some goodwill by going ahead with the meeting.

"But we should not see this as China relaxing its cross-strait policy because it did not send a mayor-level official to the meeting."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2016, with the headline 'Shanghai, Taipei officials meet amid tensions'. Print Edition | Subscribe