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May 30, 2017

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'Room for imagination' left in cross-strait summit: Beijing

TAIPEI -- There is plenty of "room for imagination" about a proposed summit between the leaders of China and Taiwan, including the possibility of holding the meeting in a third territory, a local newspaper quoted a Chinese official as saying Tuesday.

On where such a summit might be held, Beijing's position is "for the two sides of the strait to find a place" for the meeting, Sun Yafu, vice president of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS), told the United Daily News in an interview in Beijing.

ARATS is China's semi-official agency responsible for contacts and negotiations with Taiwan.

That was the position laid out by Zhang Zhijun, head of the Taiwan Affairs Office under China's State Council, Sun said, explaining that Zhang's remarks were misinterpreted by some news media in Taiwan.

Zhang did not mean to say the summit should be held either in mainland China or Taiwan. It is "too narrow" to read it that way, Sun said.

When asked whether Zhang meant that while Beijing has ruled out holding the meeting in an international setting, it could be held in a place other than China or Taiwan, such as Singapore, Sun said: "Yes. That's it."

The first high-level meeting between Taiwan and China took place in Singapore in April 1993, when Wang Daohan, then ARATS president, held talks with his counterpart Koo Chen fu, chairman of Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF).

President Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan has actively pushed the idea of a meeting between him and Chinese President Xi Jinping to further relations between the two sides.

He has proposed holding the encounter at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders summit in Beijing later this year, but China has been cool to the idea, worried that Ma's appearance at the international gathering would hint at Taiwan's sovereignty.

Beijing has consistently blocked Taiwan's president from attending APEC meetings, forcing him to send an envoy instead.

In the interview, Sun seemed to attach more conditions to staging a Ma-Xi meeting, saying that in addition to a suitable venue, "we also need to think about the purpose of a top meeting, what problems it is to resolve and what topics will be on the agenda."

"If the purpose of the meeting is to seek development in cross-strait relations rather than just to shake hands and if we plan a full program for our leaders' meeting, then the room for imagination can be even bigger," he said.

Sun gave the interview as he prepared to attend the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference as a member of the advisory body.

In response, Taiwan's Cabinet-level Mainland Affairs Council said only that it remains Taipei's position that the annual APEC forum would provide the most suitable setting for the proposed meeting.

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