Taoyuan: China`s most senior official ever to visit Taiwan met his counterpart Wednesday to discuss setting up liaison offices, sparking angry confrontations between pro-independence protesters and riot police.
The four-day visit by Zhang Zhijun, director of the Taiwan Affairs Office, comes as a further sign of warming ties between the former bitter rivals, despite vocal opposition from those opposed to forging closer ties with Beijing.
Zhang, who holds minister-level status, arrived at Taoyuan airport in the north of this island around noon and met his Taiwanese counterpart Wang Yu-chi, chairman of Taiwan`s Mainland Affairs Council, later in the day.
The two previously met in China`s eastern city of Nanjing in February in the first government-to-government talks since Taiwan and the mainland split 65 years ago after a brutal civil war.
Wednesday`s visit marks the most senior-level talks between the two sides to take place in Taiwan.
Hailing the historical nature of the visit, Zhang said: "It took less than three house to fly from Beijing to Taiwan, but the step took 65 years."
Wang described the visit as "of significance". But he also called on Beijing to take into account the multiple views within Taiwan over its relationship with the mainland, urging Zhang to "listen carefully to the voices of Taiwan people, appreciate their lifestyle and respect their choices".
While Taiwan has a vibrant and growing business relationship with China, many Taiwanese are concerned about any role the mainland -- an authoritarian one-party state -- would have on their democracy should relations continue to warm. Opponents in Taiwan have accused the government of trading Taiwan`s national interest to Beijing in exchange for marginal economic benefits.
Ahead of the discussions, demonstrators tried to break through security barriers outside the hotel where Wang and Zhang were to meet and clashed with riot police.
"We strongly oppose the Wang-Zhang meeting, which is illegal while the government has yet to come up with a law to supervise the contact," Lin Fei-fan, leader of an anti-Beijing protest group, said.
During the protest dozens of demonstrators, mostly young students, chanted: "Taiwan`s future decided by Taiwan".
Dozens of pro-independence and pro-unification activists also clashed in the airport.
Moves by Ma`s administration to further embrace China have also been hampered by massive student-led protests in Taipei earlier this year.
In an apparent reference to those protests, Zhang said: "It would have been hard to imagine that this visit could have been done in the first half of this year."
Analysts say the meeting represents a further step towards normalising ties between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland.
The two sides split in 1949 at the end of a brutal civil war are still technically at war despite tensions easing markedly since 2008 when Ma Ying-jeou of the China-friendly Kuomintang came to power.
But despite the warmer ties, Beijing opposes the island participating in international organisations as a sovereign state and considers Taiwan to be a part of China awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.