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September 26, 2017

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Will Tsai Ing-wen ever meet with Zhang Zhiqun?

Tsai Ing-wen, chairwoman of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), made an about-face last week.

When Chen Yunlin, president of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS), visited Taipei for the first time to meet his Taiwan counterpart Chairman P. K. Chiang of the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) in November 2008, the then-DPP Chairwoman Tsai led an army of rabble-rousing hotheads in an attempt to mob the Chinese visitor. Only a week after she got back to her old job of leading the opposition party at the end of last month, she aired her wish to meet without preconditions with Zhang Zhiqun, minister of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, which set up the ARATS in 1991 to deal with non-political cross-strait relations with Taiwan's SEF.

The Tsai move, which signaled a reverse of the DPP's enduring brick-wall anti-China policy, was at once welcomed by a surprised Beijing.

Fan Liqing, spokeswoman for Minister Zhang, welcomed the Tsai initiative at a regular press meeting last Friday, saying, "So long as it may contribute to the peaceful development, anything needs to be supported." On the following day, she told the press through SMS (short message service) "We welcome everybody, regardless of what his or her opinion might be in the past and so long as he or she now agrees, supports and likes to take part in the peaceful development of cross-strait relations."

She hinted that a Zhang-Tsai meeting is likely to follow after Zhang meets his counterpart Wang Yu-chi, minister of the Mainland Affairs Council, in Taiwan next month or in July. Wang visited China in last February to meet Zhang in Nanjing and Shanghai. Zhang is returning the Wang visit.

Is it possible for Tsai, known as "Little Ying of Violence" after her 2008 campaign against Chen Yunlin's visit, to talk business with Zhang anywhere in Taiwan but Taipei? It is outright impossible unless the one-time anti-China firebrand would either renounce the claim of independence for Taiwan or help get the Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement "ratified" by the Legislative Yuan when it meets in an extraordinary session next month.

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