Chinese delegation gets 'warm reception' in rare visit to Taipei

Shanghai delegation leader Li Xiaodong at the Taipei City Hall after meeting local city officials on Monday. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TAIPEI - The first Chinese delegation to visit Taiwan since the start of the pandemic enjoyed a “warm reception”, the opposition-led Taipei city government said on Monday.

The three-day visit by the delegation from Shanghai, which began on Saturday, is part of a series of recent exchanges that have taken place as Taiwan gears up for elections in 2024.

Beijing claims the democratic island as part of its territory to be reunified one day by force if necessary, and has ramped up military, diplomatic and economic pressure during Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s tenure.

The six-member group from Shanghai met Taipei Mayor Chiang Wan-an of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) on Monday.

Their rare trip follows another cross-strait exchange in February when Beijing said it wanted to enhance cooperation with the KMT, Taiwan’s main political opposition.

Officials “exchanged views on municipal issues such as culture, sports and tourism... The Shanghai delegation also said they felt a warm reception”, Taipei’s city government said in a statement on Monday.

Taiwan-China exchanges had tapered off due to pandemic-driven border closures, but political tension meant contact was rare even before then.

Asked on Sunday if their visit signalled warming cross-strait relations, Shanghai delegation leader Li Xiaodong said: “We are looking forward to it.”

“But it is impossible for a dramatic change through just one working group like mine, both sides have to work together,” Mr Li told reporters.

KMT vice-chairman Andrew Hsia recently went on a nine-day trip to China, where he called for more direct flights and the lifting of import restrictions.

China suspended a host of Taiwanese food and drink shipments in December, escalating a ban on fruit and fish imports imposed after then US House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.

Mrs Pelosi’s August trip tipped relations between Taipei and Beijing to their lowest point in years, with the People’s Liberation Army staging massive military drills around the island in protest.

Beijing had fostered closer ties with the KMT under Ms Tsai’s pro-China predecessor Ma Ying-jeou, and with Ms Tsai ineligible for another term, the field for the coming presidential race is more open.

Mr Song Tao, head of Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office, told Mr Hsia’s delegation that the Communist Party of China was willing to work with the KMT to promote relations based on the shared political foundation of opposing Taiwanese independence, according to China’s state news agency Xinhua. AFP

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