Envoys from Taiwan and China began meeting today to discuss a historic trade agreement that many hope will further ease the threat of a conflict in one of Asia’s most dangerous potential flash points.
The sweeping pact, expected to be signed later today, would allow direct shipping links across the Taiwan Strait for the first time since a bloody civil war split the two sides in 1949.
The deal would also further expand the number of weekly passenger flights from 36 to 108. Cargo flights would be allowed for the first time, with 60 crossing the strait each month.
Today’s meeting was held in Taipei’s landmark Grand Hotel, a massive building with red trim and a traditional yellow-tiled sloping roof.
China’s envoy, Chen Yunlin, is the highest-ranking Communist Chinese official ever to visit Taiwan. When he began his five-day trip yesterday, he was greeted by noisy crowds of protesters who oppose closer ties to the mainland.
In an opening statement, Mr Chen said the meeting meant that “both sides have grasped a rare historic opportunity” and that future talks should deal with finance.
“We face a global economic slowdown, and uncertainties have increased in the environment. The financial turmoil is more severe than the 1997 Asian financial crisis,” he said. “The conditions pose severe challenges to both sides and highlight the importance of financial and economic cooperation.”
The meeting drew applause from three chambers of commerce representing the US, Japan and Europe. In a joint statement, the business groups said restrictions on flights and shipping have kept Taiwan from fully participating in the global and Asian economies.