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By EDWARD WONG
Published: November 6, 2008
BEIJING — President Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan met with a senior Chinese envoy in Taipei on Thursday in a bid to improve diplomatic ties between the two governments after the envoy signed transportation and trade agreements with Taiwanese negotiators.
The meeting was one of the highest-level exchanges between officials from mainland China and Taiwan since 1949, when the Kuomintang, the party led by Chiang Kai-shek, lost the Chinese civil war to the Communists and retreated to Taiwan. Mr. Ma is a member of the Kuomintang.
The Beijing government considers Taiwan a rebel province and has promised to draw it back into Communist rule, by force it necessary. Many Taiwanese prefer to maintain the status quo of de facto independence, and some advocate formal independence. The policies of the opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party lean toward outright independence.
The meeting between Mr. Ma and the Chinese envoy, Chen Yunlin, began at 11 a.m. and lasted only five minutes, according to Xinhua, the mainland’s official state news agency. The two officials exchanged gifts: Mr. Chen presented Mr. Ma with a painting of a horse (Mr. Ma’s surname means horse), and Mr. Ma gave Mr. Chen a piece of fine porcelain.
Despite the warming of relations, Mr. Ma told reporters on Thursday that “we can’t deny that there still exist differences and challenges, especially regarding Taiwan’s security and international status.”
Mr. Chen did not address Mr. Ma as zongtong — president. Doing so would have implied that the mainland recognizes Taiwan’s de facto independent status. The question of how Mr. Chen would address Mr. Ma was much discussed by political analysts in the mainland and Taiwan before Mr. Chen arrived in Taipei on Monday for the start of his five-day visit, and pro-nationalist Taiwanese were irate on Thursday after learning that Mr. Chen avoided using Mr. Ma’s formal title.
The meeting came as hundreds of protesters opposed to close ties with the mainland gathered around the meeting site, a government guest house, to denounce the two officials, according to news agencies. Riot police barricaded streets and stood in long lines with shields and batons. The previous night, Mr. Chen had been trapped by protesters in a hotel, the Grand Formosa Regent Taipei, while attending a banquet there.
Hundreds of protesters surrounded the hotel, chanting, throwing eggs and burning Chinese flags, according to news agencies. Riot police intervened and dozens of people were injured.
The chairwoman of the Democratic Progressive Party, Tsai Ing-wen, said this week that Mr. Ma has failed to defend Taiwan’s sovereignty and is conceding too much too quickly to the Beijing government.