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China sends minister to Taiwan for first time

TAOYUAN, Taiwan - China's most senior official ever to visit Taiwan arrived on the island Wednesday to discuss setting up liaison offices, sparking angry confrontations between pro-independence protesters and riot police.

The four-day visit by Zhang Zhijun, director of the Taiwan Affairs Office, comes as a further sign of warming ties between the former bitter rivals, despite vocal opposition from those opposed to forging closer ties with Beijing.

Zhang, who holds minister-level status, arrived at Taoyuan airport in the north of this island around noon and was due to meet his Taiwanese counterpart Wang Yu-chi, chairman of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, later in the day.

The two previously met in China's eastern city of Nanjing in February in the first government-to-government talks since Taiwan and the mainland split 65 years ago after a brutal civil war.

Wednesday's visit marks the most senior-level talks between the two sides to take place in Taiwan.

Ahead of the discussions, demonstrators tried to break through security barriers outside the hotel where Wang and Zhang were to meet and clashed with riot police.

Dozens of pro-independence and pro-unification activists also clashed in the airport.

Analysts say the meeting represents a further step towards normalising ties between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland. The two sides are still technically at war despite tensions easing markedly since 2008 when Ma Ying-jeou of the China-friendly Kuomintang came to power.

Moves by Ma's administration to further embrace China have also been hampered by massive student-led protests in Taipei earlier this year.

Despite improved relations, Beijing opposes the island participating in international organisations as a sovereign state and considers Taiwan to be a part of China awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.

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Zhang Zhijun, minister of Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office, left, and his Taiwan counterpart Wang Yu-chi pose for media at the start of a meeting in Taoyuan, Taiwan, Wednesday, June 25.

(AP)

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