China and Taiwan are holding important negotiations that suggest improved relations, and a corresponding reduction in long-standing tensions, between the two East Asia nations.
Talks this week included high-ranking delegations of both governments. Among the topics discussed was the opening of new liaison offices in Beijing and Taipei.
The islands that constitute Taiwan broke off from the People’s Republic of China in 1949, when leaders of what was then called Nationalist China fled the mainland, having lost the post-World War II civil war to Chinese communists.
China continues to claim Taiwan. Relations between the two nations have followed an uneven path. They started with near warfare and occasional Taiwanese claims to independence. Now, the countries have important economic ties.
These developments would seem to preclude war. They could lead to a relationship with Taiwan similar to the ones Beijing has with Hong Kong and Macau.
Last week’s meeting between Chinese and Taiwanese officials were not unprecedented. But they involved the highest-level contact since the 1949 split and were unprecedented in their media visibility.
Trade between China and Taiwan has doubled in recent years, reaching $197 billion last year. China was Taiwan’s biggest customer in 2013, buying 28.8 percent of the islands’ exports. An estimated 3 million mainland Chinese residents visited Taiwan last year.
There are still plenty of problems to discuss, including 1,500 Taiwanese citizens in Chinese jails and a claimed 1,200 Chinese missiles pointed at Taiwan. Other problems stem from the two entities’ disproportionate sizes: Taiwan’s population is 23 million; China’s is 1.3 billion.
Better, quieter, less-militarized China-Taiwan relations are to America’s advantage. The United States remains pledged to protect Taiwan, and has sold aircraft, missiles, ships, and arms upgrades to help Taiwan maintain military capacity.
It would not be to America’s advantage to have to defend Taiwan militarily from China, which is only 110 miles away across the Taiwan Straits. So Washington should welcome all steps to improve China-Taiwan relations.