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Anti-China protests less explosive, but mistrust remains

Cross-strait ties have shown some good signs this week amid a ground-breaking visit to the island by Beijing's top Taiwan policymaker.

The visit itself is of course a good sign by default because it is the first time a Beijing official of Zhang Zhijun's level has ever set foot in Taiwan. But more significant was the more “friendly” reception he has been given by Taiwan's pro-independence camp and his seemingly more considerate reactions to critics' challenges to China's Taiwan policy.

Zhang, who heads China's cabinet-level Taiwan Affairs Office, has been dogged by protesters since his arrival on Wednesday. But compared to the massive and violent protests plaguing the visit of a top cross-strait affairs envoy from China several years ago, the demonstrations against Zhang have been much less explosive.

Zhang also received a warm welcome from Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu — a heavyweight from the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party and an iconic figure of Taiwan's pro-democracy movement starting in the late 1970s — during the Chinese official's visit to the southern city on Friday.

Cross-strait differences may have yet to be trimmed and many issues may remain as unresolved as ever. Pro-independence fundamentalists may be embracing their beliefs as firmly as ever, and student protesters may be demanding as vehemently as ever for more transparency in cross-strait dealings.

But we can see that all sides — including the DPP, pro-independence activists, and China — have shown more restraint.

Just a few weeks ago, China openly rejected a DPP mayor's call to let Taiwan's people decide their own future. A China spokesperson stressed that Taiwan's future had to be decided by all 1.3 billion mainland Chinese people, plus those in Taiwan.

Such an outright rejection of the principle of self-determination has irked the people of Taiwan. Taiwan has long reached a national consensus that its future must be decided by its own people. In reference to such a consensus, President Ma Ying-jeou said in a recent interview with Forbes that Beijing needs to do its homework and understand Taiwan better.

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