China-Taiwan talks seek to maintain momentum for closer ties, amid public's skepticism

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TAIPEI, Taiwan — Negotiators from Taiwan and China met Saturday for talks in an attempt to maintain momentum for the forging of closer ties in the face of a skeptical Taiwanese public.

The talks resulted in no firm agreements but underscored Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou's determination to prove that engagement with China can help the local economy.

Ministerial-level officials from the sides met on the tiny Taiwan-controlled island of Kinmen, just off the Chinese coast, where the rivals fought bloody military battles in the 1950s and 1960s.

Topics discussed included controlling the illegal excavation of sand from the ocean floor, opening outlying Taiwanese islets to more China-based tourism and letting Chinese tourists make transit stops in Taiwan, Taiwan's Cabinet-level negotiating body, the Mainland Affairs Council, said in a statement.

"The development of relations between Taiwan and mainland China has been self-evident, and despite bumps in the recent past I want to emphasize this is a development trend backed by public opinion," council Chairman Andrew Hsia said in opening remarks.

Beijing's representative Zhang Zhijun, director of the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office, said China was determined to keep ties moving forward.

"We absolutely cannot let mainland China-Taiwan relations go backward again, even less so into the past," he was quoted as saying by China's official Xinhua News Agency in his opening remarks. "I believe this is also the joint desire of compatriots from both sides who have weathered storms of the past."

Many among the Taiwanese public fear closer ties could undermine their economic advantages while furthering Beijing's eventual goal of ending the island's self-rule of nearly seven decades. China relations are expected to feature prominently in next year's Taiwanese presidential election, from which Ma is excluded by term limits.

About 300 opponents and supporters of the talks demonstrated outside the meeting venue Saturday, with one opponent injured in a scuffle.

The mostly private two-hour talks also covered Taiwan's potential membership in the China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

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