This article was first published in The Straits Times on April 30, 1993
China and Taiwan signed historic pacts in Singapore yesterday after negotiators decided to defer discussions on unresolved problems preventing closer economic co-operation between them to future meetings.
The heads of the two semi-government bodies handling bilateral ties, Mr Wang Daohan, chairman of China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (Arats), and Mr Koo Chen-fu, who heads Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), put their signatures to four documents in all.
One was a joint statement in which they spelt out their commitment to more economic, cultural and technical exchanges.
The other three were agreements reached at the end of their talks, which started on Tuesday at the NOL Building.
These were on the authentication of documents, verification of and compensation for lost mail, and regular contacts between officials from the two sides.
The agreements, signed during a 20-minute ceremony at the NOL Building's auditorium and televised live to Taiwan yesterday morning, will come into effect 30 days later.
Champagne flowed and glasses clinked after Mr Wang and Mr Koo exchanged the signed documents, a historic moment witnessed by both their wives, officials as well as 200 journalists mainly from China, Taiwan and other Asian countries.
To show mutual respect and co-operation, Mr Wang and Mr Koo swapped seats at one point during the signing ceremony.
At a press conference later, Mr Wang, a former Shanghai mayor and close associate of Chinese Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin, described the event as "an important historic step forward for cross-strait relations".
At another press conference, Mr Koo, a prominent Taiwanese business leader and senior adviser to President Lee Teng-hui, hailed the agreements as "a bridge marking a milestone for orderly exchanges and future relations between their two organisations and people".
The meeting between the two men represented the highest level of contact between China and Taiwan since 1949.
Both men said the agreement formalising regular contact between Arats and SEF officials was the biggest breakthrough of their talks.
This called for quarterly meetings between junior officials of the two organisations and half-yearly contacts between the more senior ones.
Mr Koo said this new formal channel would provide an opportunity for further discussion of the economic issues that had not been resolved during the meeting.
The two-day talks were extended for another day to iron out some differences over economic matters but these remained unsettled when the meeting was wound up.
"It is better to discuss the matters again than having to agree on them hurriedly," said Mr Koo.
Both Mr Wang and Mr Koo also said economic issues were complicated and technical and the meeting they had was insufficient to resolve all their differences.
Disagreements over economic relations arose when China proposed direct trade, postal and transportation links to foster closer ties.
But Taiwan could not agree to this. Its officials here said that the proposal was outside the agenda and they therefore had no authority to discuss the matter.
Taiwan, on the other hand, demanded legal protection for the growing Taiwanese investments on the mainland.
But China said this was unnecessary because adequate measures existed to safeguard the investments.
Reiterating Taiwan's position, Mr Koo said he still felt the current measures were insufficient simply because they were not incorporated within a legal framework.
"It can only be adequate if they are agreed upon by both sides and made legal," he added.
But whatever their differences, Mr Wang said that with official links now formalised, "we will not leave them unresolved but will continue to meet and discuss".
The talks were held against a backdrop of rapid growth in economic exchanges between China and Taiwan.
Taiwan's Board of Foreign Trade said yesterday that China would replace Japan as Taiwan's third largest export market in the next two or three years, Reuter news agency reported.
The board said Taiwan's exports to China would reach US$8 billion (S$12.8 billion) this year and US$10 billion next year.
The growing ties between the two have sparked some concern in Taiwan.
The main opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party, which wants to prevent reunification of China and Taiwan, sent 12 members to Singapore to protest against what they said was a "political" deal.
They were not allowed to attend the meeting nor join as "observers".
But Mr Wang and Mr Koo said in their separate press conferences that they did not discuss political issues and had kept discussions to matters of a "civilian, administrative, economic and functional" nature as agreed earlier.
The joint statement
Both sides agree:
* To have greater economic, cultural, scientific, youth and media exchanges.
* That the agenda for discussions this year will cover repatriation of illegal immigrants to each side, joint efforts to crack down on marine smuggling and robbery, settlement of fishing disputes, protection of intellectual property, and contact and assistance between judicial and legal entities.
* To look into strengthening of exploration and exchanges on energy and resources.
* That the issues of investment rights in China and related problems of Taiwanese investors as well as exchanges between industry and business will be the focus of discussions at a place and time to be decided.
Meeting schedule for Arats and SEF officials: Directors or deputy secretaries-general will meet once every three months in either China or Taiwan on a rotation basis. Meetings at vice-chairman or secretary-general levels will take place half-yearly in China or Taiwan or a neutral country. No time-frame or place is set for talks between the two groups' leaders.
Authentication of documents: Provides both sides with copies of proof to certify births, deaths, marriages, educational qualifications, title deeds, etc, in the event of a dispute. Details the method of exchange of documents for authentication. Verification of/compensation for lost registered mail: Spells out procedures on the retrieval of lost registered mail posted through another country. It also gives instructions on how damages can be sought.