China official to discuss liaison offices on Taiwan visit

TAIPEI (AFP) - China's top Taiwan official will discuss setting up liaison offices during his landmark first trip to the island next week, officials said on Thursday, in a further sign of warming ties between the former bitter rivals.

Mr Zhang Zhijun, the director of the Taiwan Affairs Office, is scheduled to fly to Taiwan for a four-day trip to the island Beijing still regards as its territory.

Exchanging liaison offices will be on the agenda of a closed-door meeting between Mr Zhang and Mr Wang Yu-chi, the chairman of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, council spokesman Wu Mei-hung told reporters.

The visit follows Mr Wang's historic trip to China's eastern city of Nanjing in February, during which the two sides held their first government-to-government talks since Taiwan and the mainland split 65 years ago after a brutal civil war.

"The trip is expected to help the mainland's officials overseeing Taiwan affairs gain first-hand information on Taiwan and better understand how local people look at the cross-strait relations," Ms Wu said.

The sensitive political issue of setting up liaison offices was floated for the first time last year but has made little progress as Taipei and Beijing have failed to reach agreement on the right to visit nationals detained or jailed by the other side, local media said.

Moves by President Ma Ying-jeou's administration to further embrace China have also been hampered by massive student-led protests in Taipei earlier this year.

Overall cross-strait ties and Taiwan's participation in international organisations will also be discussed, Wu said.

Despite improving relations, Beijing opposes the island's participation in international organisations as a sovereign state.

Mr Zhang will not visit the capital Taipei because of political sensitivities but will meet New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu and Taipei City Mayor Jason Hu.

He is also scheduled to call on Mr Chen Chu, mayor of the southern city of Kaohsiung which is the stronghold of the China-sceptic opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

"There is no such arrangement" Ms Wu said when asked if Mr Zhang would call on DPP chief Tsai Ing-wen, widely considered a hopeful for the 2016 presidential elections.

China still considers Taiwan part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.

But ties have improved markedly since 2008 when Mr Ma of the Kuomintang party came to power on a platform of beefing up trade and tourism links with the mainland.

In June 2010 Taiwan and China signed an Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, a pact widely characterised as the boldest step yet towards reconciliation.

Yet despite the much-touted detente, Taipei and Beijing had until February shunned all official contact, with negotiations carried out through proxies.

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