Taiwan plans to send two senior Cabinet officials to Beijing for talks on weekend charter flights and tourism next week, a senior Taiwanese negotiator said Sunday, amid signs of rapidly warming ties.
The June 11-14 talks also will mark the first official dialogue between the two rivals after Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, who has promised to improve China ties, was inaugurated on May 20.
Ma also promised by July he will start direct weekend charter flights across the 100-mile- (160-kilometer-) wide Taiwan Strait and increase the number of mainland visitors to the island to bolster Taiwan's economy. Currently, direct charter flights between the two sides operate only on Chinese holidays.
Taiwan's Strait Exchange Foundation Secretary-General Kao Koong-lian told a group of reporters Sunday he expects the talks to proceed smoothly.
"We expect to sign an agreement on June 13," Kao said. "This is also the first time Taiwan is sending officials at such a senior level for talks with China."
Kao identified the two vice Cabinet ministers as Fu Don-cheng of the Mainland Affairs Council, and Oliver Yu of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications. Mainland Affairs Council is Taiwan's Cabinet-level body in charge of implementing the government's China policy.
He said he and the vice ministers are included in a 19-people delegation led by his foundation.
The foundation was Taiwan's lead agency for cross-Strait negotiations in the 1990s. Foundation-led talks were halted in 1999, but have now resumed for the first time after nine years.
China first invited Taiwan in late May for the talks soon after Taiwanese ruling Nationalist Party Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung met with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing to pave the way for closer exchanges.
However, Beijing has long rejected formal negotiations with the Taiwan government to avoid giving the island any impression of sovereignty.
China continues to claim Taiwan as part of its territory after the two sides split amid civil war in 1949.
Relations between the two sides were strained for the past eight years under Taiwan's former President Chen Shui-bian, whose pro-independence agenda incensed Beijing.
Although midlevel officials from the two sides had conducted low-profile talks on the new air links and tourism during Chen's time in power, they failed to reach any agreement before he stepped down.