China's top policy negotiator to visit Taiwan despite protest threat

Despite threats of widespread protests by pro-independence activists, China's Taiwan Affairs Council Minister Zhang Zhijun will begin a four-day trip to Taiwan from Wednesday.

Zhang will be the first head of the body to visit Taiwan and Zhang's first trip to the island since he was appointed in March last year.

The main purpose of Zhang's trip is to visit Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council Minister Wang Yu-chi.

Upon arrival, Zhang will meet Wang at a hotel at Taoyuan International Airport in the afternoon.

They will meet again Friday in Greater Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan.

Wang and Zhang first met in Nanjing and Shanghai in February, the first government-to-government talks since the two political parties split amid the civil war that ended 65 years ago.

Among achievements at that meeting, the two sides agreed to construct a mechanism for dialogue between their organizations, including reciprocal visits by officials.

Zhang also accepted Wang's invitation to visit Taiwan and said he hoped he could make the trip in the first half of this year.

The four-day visit will take Zhang to New Taipei in northern Taiwan where he will meet Mayor Eric Chu of the KMT. He will also spend time with grassroots workers, Chinese spouses and indigenous people.

On Friday, Zhang will travel to Greater Kaohsiung where anti-KMT sentiments are widespread. He will meet Mayor Chen Chu of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party and visit survivors of Typhoon Morakot, which killed 700 people in August 2009.

Zhang will visit Greater Taichung in central Taiwan on Saturday, meeting Mayor Jason Hu in the morning and then returning to China in the afternoon.

Questioning the timing of Zhang's planned trip, pro-independence groups have threatened to follow Zhang's every step during his stay.

The Taiwan Society said Zhang comes at a sensitive time because the legislature is holding a provisional session seeking to pass a bill regulating the signing of bilateral agreements with China and a cross-strait agreement on trade in services.

The service trade accord has been bogged down in the legislature after it was signed in June last year and the society said Zhang's trip is to make sure the controversial bills clear the legislature.

The March Taiwan group said it plans to mobilize supporters to protest Zhang's meetings with Wang, adding the two sides must not negotiate the establishment of offices between Taiwan's semi-official Straits Exchange Foundation and China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits before the legislature passes a bill on bilateral agreements with China.

The Taiwan Solidarity Union, an opposition party, said Zhang owes the Taiwanese people an apology after China's Taiwan Affairs Office spokeswoman Fan Liqing said earlier this month that Taiwan's future "must be decided by all Chinese people, including (our) Taiwanese compatriots."

China and Taiwan have been governed separately since 1949 when the Nationalist Party, President Ma Ying-jeou's KMT, was defeated by Communists under Mao Zedong and had to flee to Taiwan.

China regards Taiwan as a renegade province and has threatened in the past to invade should the island formally declare independence.

Relations have seen an improvement since China-friendly Ma came to power in 2008.

The main opposition Democratic Progressive Party has been more low key in its comment about Zhang's trip.

It said Tuesday the party welcomes "normal interactions" between the two sides, but they must be conducted with equality, reciprocity and transparency.

"As he (Zhang) said he wants to understand how the Taiwanese people think, we hope he does so sincerely and wholeheartedly," Chao Tien-lin, the director of the DPP's Department of China Affairs, said at a press conference.