"Tomorrow we will discuss whether we can set up a channel for Taiwan to help with reconstruction efforts in Sichuan," Chiang said.

Making history 

"Although the schedule sounds simple, the task is very heavy and the significance is also quite heavy."

The apparent warming of ties between the two sides follows the March landslide election victory of Ma Ying-Jeou, Taiwan's president, who pledged closer ties with the mainland.

"I want to remind you that we're making history, which will have a far-reaching influence on Taiwan," Ma said before the talks on Wednesday.

The four-day discussions could help calm the angry rhetoric and military tensions that have made the Taiwan Strait one of the world's most volatile regions.

 

China regards self-ruled Taiwan as a renegade province and has repeatedly threatened to use force to stop any formal move towards independence.

 

Economic boost

 

The talks are also expected to give Taiwan's economy a much-needed boost.

China-Taiwan relations


Taiwan split from mainland China at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949

Beijing regards Taiwan as part of its territory, and says it will use force to reclaim it if Taipei ever declares independence

Taiwan has been a multi-party democracy since 1996

Taiwan's defence ministry says China now has nearly 1,000 missiles aimed at the island

The US is the major arms supplier to Taiwan and has warned China that any attack on the island would be viewed with "grave concern"

Taiwan banned direct trade and transport exchanges with China after the two sides split at the end of a civil war in 1949, and has since severely restricted visits to the island.

But during the meeting China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits and Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation are discussing establishing permanent travel links to allow more mainland Chinese to visit the island. 

The two countries first held direct talks in Singapore in 1993 but the Chinese side suspended the process two years later to protest against a visit to the US by Lee Teng-hui, Taiwan's then president.

 

Late last month Chinese and Taiwan ruling party leaders agreed to resume talks after they met in Beijing.

 

That meeting was the highest-level contact between the two sides since 1949.

 

No political issues

 

Both sides have made it clear that more difficult topics such as political issues and China's military spending would be kept off the negotiating table for now as they seek to build greater trust and understanding.

 

Li Peng, deputy director of the Taiwan Research Institute at China's Xiamen University, said the "conditions for talks on political issues are not ready yet".

 

"The upcoming talks will follow the principle of easy tasks first, difficult tasks later, so that means economic issues first, political issues later."

 

George Tsai, a political science professor at Chinese Culture University in Taipei, described the upcoming talks as "very symbolic".

 

"They signal there is an amicable atmosphere. It is quite positive," he said.
 
"But we should be realistic. We should not have any illusions [about the difficulties ahead]."

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies