BEIJING/TAIPEI (Reuters) - China and Taiwan began operating the first telephone hotline between the two nations on Wednesday, set up as a confidence building and tension reducing measure, with senior officials exchanging New Year’s greetings.
The step was agreed during a historic meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou in Singapore last month.
Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said the first call was between Zhang Zhijun, director of the Taiwan Affairs Office, and Andrew Hsia, head of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, who wished each other happy New Year.
Zhang and Hsia also talked about the important achievements both sides had made in the past year in promoting the peaceful development of relations, spokesman Ma said.
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council confirmed the call took place, but did not immediately provide any other details.
Defeated Nationalist forces fled to Taiwan after losing a civil war with the Communists in 1949. Beijing has never renounced the use of force to bring what it deems a renegade province under its control.
Relations have improved rapidly since Ma Ying-jeou became Taiwan president in 2008, and the two have signed a series of landmark trade and tourism deals.
Still, deep suspicions remain. China reacted angrily earlier this month at the latest U.S. plans to sell Taiwan weapons.
China is also looking warily at January’s presidential elections in Taiwan, which are likely to return the independence-leaning opposition Democratic Progressive Party to power.
China says it will never countenance an independent Taiwan.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Faith Hung; Editing by Michael Perry