Taiwan ignites hopes of Ma-Xi meeting at Apec summit

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan's minister in charge of China affairs on Wednesday said he would support a meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Taiwanese counterpart Ma Ying-jeou, suggesting the Apec leaders summit as an ideal opportunity.

Mr Wang Yu-chi, chairman of the island's top China policy decision-making body Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), made the comments ahead of his historic trip to China next week - the first official contact between the two former bitter rivals in more than six decades.

In a further sign of fast-warming ties between Taipei and Beijing, Mr Wang told reporters: "We'd be pleased to see leaders from the two sides meet at a proper time and venue."

"I won't raise the proposal for a meeting between President Ma and Xi, but if they did (meet), we think the Apec leaders summit would be the best venue," Mr Wang said at a Taipei meeting for Taiwanese firms doing business in China.

The 2014 event will take place in Beijing this October.

Mr Wang is scheduled to fly to the mainland on Feb 11, to meet Mr Zhang Zhijun, China's Taiwan Affairs Office chief, in Nanjing in China's eastern Jiangsu province.

The coming meeting is crucial as it marks the first official contact between the two former bitter rivals since their split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.

Although Mr Wang has guaranteed he will not discuss "any sensitive issues" with Mr Zhang, observers say they are watching to see if the trip could pave way for a meeting between Mr Ma and Mr Xi.

Mr Xi met Mr Vincent Siew, Taiwan's former vice-president, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Indonesia last October.

The first such China-Taiwan meeting at the Apec forum was in 2008, when tensions between the two started thawing.

Taiwan's leaders are barred from Apec summits due to objections from China, which claims sovereignty over the island, and are represented instead by senior economic advisers or business leaders.

However, relations have improved significantly since Mr Ma of the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang party came to power in 2008. He was re-elected in January 2012.

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

However, the hard-won trade pact, along with other achievements like direct flights, was the result of negotiations by quasi-official bodies - the Straits Exchange Foundation representing Taiwan and Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits from China.

Beijing has refused to renounce the possibility of using force to take back the island, which it regards as a rebel region awaiting reunification with the mainland.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.