China, Taiwan inaugurate upgraded hotline between sides

BEIJING: Cabinet officials from China and Taiwan have spoken for the first time using a newly inaugurated hotline, the latest effort to build trust between the longtime rivals.

The link that went into service Wednesday represents an upgrade in contact between the sides by connecting the heads of the two Cabinet-level agencies responsible for their relations, Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council and China's Taiwan Affairs Office.

Existing hotlines already connect the agencies' deputy directors as well as the semi-official organisations that have negotiated a series of agreements in the absence of formal ties.

The new hotline was among the few takeaways from a historic November summit in Singapore between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Taiwanese counterpart, Ma Ying-jeou. The one-day event marked the first meeting between leaders of the sides since they split amid civil war in 1949.

Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Ma Xiaoguang told reporters in Beijing that the new hotline would ease communication on important issues and help enhance mutual trust and understanding.

"We hope the two authorities will make efforts to maintain and promote the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations," said Ma, who also referenced China's demand that Taiwan recognise it is a part of China.

Bitter hostility between the sides has eased considerably over the past two decades, especially under the pro-China policies of Ma Ying-jeou, who was elected as Taiwan's president in 2008. Direct trade and travel links have been fully established, and the sides' economies are growing increasingly intertwined.

However, China and Taiwan are now moving into a period of uncertainty, with Ma leaving office next year and opposition Democratic Progressive Party candidate Tsai Ing-wen touted to win next month's presidential election.

Tsai's DPP backs Taiwan's formal independence, and she has refused to endorse Beijing's demand that she recognise the island and mainland as part of a single Chinese nation.

In keeping with majority public opinion, however, Tsai has said she plans no changes to the status quo of de facto independence while seeking stable relations with Beijing. China, which threatens to respond to any independence declaration by Taiwan with military force, has yet to comment publicly on the January 16 Taiwanese election.