BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s top official in charge of relations with Taiwan will make his first visit to the island later this month, state media said, following large-scale protests there against a controversial trade pact.
Zhang Zhijun, director of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, will become the first head of the body ever to visit the self-ruled island, the official Xinhua news agency said late on Thursday.
He will spend four days in Taiwan, Xinhua said, and apart from visiting capital Taipei will also go to three other places, including Kaohsiung in the heavily pro-independence south of the island. China says it will not countenance an independent Taiwan.
China and Taiwan have been ruled separately since Nationalist forces, defeated by the Communists, fled to the island at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. China considers Taiwan a renegade province and has never ruled out the use of force to bring it under its control.
But in recent years the two sides have built up extensive economic ties, and in February they held their first direct government-to-government talks, in China, a big step towards expanding cross-strait dialogue beyond trade.
Yet booming trade has not brought progress on political reconciliation or reduced military readiness on either side. Many in Taiwan fear autocratic China’s designs for their free-wheeling island.
Protesters occupied Taiwan’s parliament and mounted mass protests over a three-week period starting in March in anger at a trade pact between China and Taiwan, which they fear will benefit wealthy companies with Chinese links and undermine Taiwan’s cherished democratic institutions.
It was the largest anti-Beijing protest in years on the island, where Nationalist forces fled in 1949 after losing to the Communists in a civil war.
The trade pact remains stalled in Taiwan’s parliament and legislators are set to discuss it during a session which overlaps with Zhang’s visit, Taiwanese local media reported.
Zhang will meet his Taiwan counterpart Wang Yu-chi, head of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, and “exchange views about cross-Strait relations”, Xinhua said.
“Zhang is expected to communicate with ordinary people on the island and learn about their ideas and suggestions on cross-Strait relations,” it added.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Michael Gold in Taipei; Editing by Jeremy Laurence