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, reported Reuters. China says it will never endorse an independent Taiwan.
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, the 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.
Earlier, The China Post reported that the government in Taiwan announced on Monday that it would expand the admission quota for mainland Chinese students pursuing associate to bachelor’s degrees in Taiwan starting next year. It added that the decision was not a political move before national elections in January to offer National Health Insurance (NHI) coverage to Chinese students studying in Taiwan in exchange for China to loosen restrictions on a cross-strait educational exchange.
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.
China reacted angrily earlier this month at the latest US 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.