Both sides have made it clear that contentious 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.

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"

Chen Yunlin, the lead Chinese negotiator, was quoted by Taiwanese media calling the agenda "important" while opening the talks on Thursday.

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

The island banned direct trade and transport exchanges with the mainland after the two sides split at the end of a civil war in 1949.

Since then Taiwan has also severely restricted visits by mainland Chinese.

Chiang Pin-kun, the island's chief negotiator, who led the Taiwanese delegation to Beijing, said the aim was "to promote peace".

"In the future, we hope the two sides can hold talks on mutual trust and create a win-win situation."

Chiang said the team will also raise the issue of relief and reconstruction efforts for victims of the Sichuan earthquake during Thursday's session.

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

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.

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

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

Li Peng,
Xiamen University
"I want to remind you that we're making history, which will have a far-reaching influence on Taiwan," Ma said on Wednesday.

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


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 president at the time.

 

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.