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China's 'silent treatment' of Taiwan closer to ending

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That captured the incoming government's ambivalence toward Beijing. They want to establish cordial ties without getting too close. Despite mutual support for better economic ties, the two differ on Taiwan's status. Beijing sees it as a part of Chinese territory awaiting unification; Ma and Siew think of "The Republic of China" (its formal name) as a sovereign state.

Still, the meeting signals a start to a more pragmatic chapter in those relations. "It suggests that there's enough goodwill on both sides to fudge difficult issues, and for the relationship to be put on a more even keel," said Steve Tsang, director of the Taiwan Studies Program at Oxford University.

Analysts expect Ma, who is set to take office May 20, to successfully push through much of his cross-strait economic agenda. That includes direct flights to China, permitting more Chinese tourists, and a relaxation of China-bound investment caps on businesses. He also wants a return to semiofficial cross-strait talks based on the "1992 consensus." That formula sees both sides recognizing the notion of one China, and agreeing to disagree on what exactly that means.

More ambitious, Ma hopes to reach agreement with Beijing on Taiwan's role in international groups. "I don't think there are major differences in principle between the KMT and the mainland side, the problem is in technicalities – names, titles, and format issues," said Chu Shulong, of Beijing's Tsinghua University. "They may not express different ideas now, but they will have differences in the future."

One example: Taiwan's ongoing bid for observer status in the World Health Organization. Beijing could finally allow Taiwan such status next year after Ma has taken power, but only after extensive negotiations on Taiwan's official name and role in the organization.

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