China’s incoming leader has said the Chinese mainland will continue to pursue the peaceful development of relations with Taiwan during his term as president.
In a meeting on Monday with former Taiwanese premier Lien Chan, Xi Jinping called it the duty of the new Chinese leadership to pursue “peaceful means” in its reunification efforts with Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province.
“Safeguarding the interests of our Taiwan compatriots and expanding their well-being is the mainland’s oft-repeated pledge and solemn promise of the new leaders of China’s Communist Party central committee,” Xi said, according to China’s Xinhua news agency.
Xi’s meeting with Lien, honorary chairman of the Kuomintang Party, was his first with a senior political figure from Taiwan since assuming the Communist Party’s top job in November. Xi will become China’s president next month.
In a separate statement, Lien said the 18 agreements signed with Taiwan in the past four years were a break from turmoil in relations, but he added that “core issues” were unresolved.
For years, the strait between the communist mainland and the democratic island, a key US ally in the region, was seen as one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints.
China and Taiwan have been ruled separately since the communists, led by Mao Zedong, defeated the Kuomintang, forcing Chiang Kai-shek and his nationalist alliance to flee to the island at the end of a bloody civil war in 1949.
Beijing has not renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control.
Relations have warmed significantly since Ma Ying-jeou was elected president of Taiwan in 2008.
The two sides have agreed to a series of trade and tourism deals, and China is now Taiwan’s top export market. Bilateral trade was worth about $121bn in 2012.
Tension between China and its neighbours, including Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines, over competing offshore claims has become more of a worry for the region than China-Taiwan differences.
Despite better economic ties between the mainland and the island, there has been little progress toward political reconciliation or an easing of military distrust.
“Of course, we also are soberly aware that historical problems remain in cross-Strait relations, and that there will be issues in the future that will require time, patience and joint effort to resolve,” Xi said.
US arms sales to Taiwan are an irritant in relations between Beijing and Washington.