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China envoy arrives in Taiwan on rare visit

  • Story Highlights
  • Chen Yunlin is the most senior Chinese official to visit Taiwan in nearly 60 years
  • Chen is president of the Association of Relations Across the Taiwan Straits
  • He will meet his counterpart, Chiang Pin-kung, chairman of the Straits Exchange
  • Talks will avoid volatile political issues and focus on economic cooperation
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(CNN) -- The most senior Chinese official to visit Taiwan in nearly 60 years arrived on the island Monday for economic talks -- a sign of improving relations.

Chen Yunlin, president of the Association of Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, leads a delegation of 60 for talks this week with his counterpart, Chiang Pin-kung, chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation.

"I feel like I'm standing at the crossroads of history," Chen said ahead of the visit, the state-run China Daily newspaper reported.

The talks will avoid volatile political issues and focus instead on economic cooperation, state media reported.

"The mission is clear and well-defined," Chen said. "No political issues pertaining to cross-Straits relations will be involved, nor will Taiwan's internal political affairs."

Chinese and Taiwanese officials agreed in June to set up permanent offices in each other's territories, in the first formal talks between the two sides in almost a decade. The Beijing talks also resulted in the agreement for weekend charter flights.

Cross-straits talks between the two delegations began in 1993, a year after China and Taiwan informally agreed that the two sides belonged to "one China" -- although they did not describe what that meant, and both sides were free to use differing interpretations.

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After that, the dialogue was delayed for five years over cross-strait tensions.

A second meeting in 1998 was held in Shanghai, but Beijing canceled a 1999 meeting when then-Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui proposed that Taiwan and China treat each other as separate states.

Taiwan's new president, Ma Ying-jeou, has rejected the push for independence. Although Ma opposes unification with China, he campaigned on promises of seeking closer ties to the mainland, particularly seeking for Taiwan some of the benefits of China's robust economy.

Taiwan separated from China after the communists' victory in the Chinese civil war in 1949. About 2 million Nationalist Chinese fled to Taiwan and set up a government there.

Beijing has always considered the island a part of China and has threatened to go to war should Taiwan declare formal independence.

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