China, Taiwan expand ties via trade
Beijing's envoy will also discuss financial links and present pandas in historic visit.
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The two sides closed deals on direct air, shipping, and postal links, further integrating Taiwan with China's booming economy, after on-and-off talks dating back to the early 1990s. But political negotiations have been put off until next year at the earliest.
The progress on trade, but not political, ties reflects the island's ambivalence toward China: Polls show that a majority of Taiwanese see China as "unfriendly" and oppose unification. But a majority also back closer commercial links.
Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou took office in May on the promise of cross-strait detente, after a decade of defiant Taiwan nationalism. Mr. Ma had won with a convincing majority and soon initiated talks with Chinese representatives. By June, the two sides had signed an agreement on charter flights and tourism. But since then Ma's approval ratings have plunged along with Taiwan's stock market, a victim of the global financial crisis. His popularity has also dropped as some fear he's moving too quickly on China.
For its part, China sees self-ruled Taiwan as its territory and has threatened war to back up its claim. But since Ma took office, it has responded to efforts to build closer ties.
China's top cross-strait negotiator, Chen Yunlin, arrived in Taipei Monday for a week of talks, the highest level Chinese Communist Party figure ever to visit Taiwan. On Monday night, Chinese and Taiwanese negotiators rubbed shoulders with the island's business elite at Taipei 101, the city's landmark skyscraper.
His delegation is slated to discuss cross-strait finance on Wednesday, and to formally present two pandas to the Taipei Zoo on Thursday as an expression of goodwill. For years Taiwan had rejected the animals because they were considered part of China's efforts at reunification. (China will receive endangered goats and deer in return.)
For many pro-independence Taiwanese, the two sides are getting too close for comfort. They accuse Mr. Ma of selling out Taiwan and eroding its sovereignty. He's already made too many concessions to China, they say, such as removing Taiwan's national flag from sites on Mr. Chen's itinerary to avoid embarrassing him.
But with their numbers in the legislature too small to block Ma's agenda, the pro-independence party can only step up street protests. It mobilized hundreds of thousands in Taipei on Oct. 25, and has planned rallies and activities all week.
"We would rather be poor than be governed by China," said independence supporter Vera Chang, outside the legislature Monday night. "Direct links only help rich businessmen, they don't help most Taiwanese."
Deals will help Taiwan's businesses
Tuesday's agreements scrap cross-strait barriers erected in 1949 by rival Chinese regimes that refused to recognize each other's existence. The deals extend cross-strait passenger flights and shorten travel times. Before, all flights had to go through Hong Kong airspace.