TAIPEI, June 25 -- Unfazed by protests, Zhang Zhijun stepped off the plane at Taipei's Taoyuan International Airport on Wednesday and extended greetings in the local Minnan dialect.
"I'm afraid I don't speak it so well, but I speak these words with all my heart," said the head of the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office.
Traversing decades of war and standoffs between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan since 1949, Zhang made this long-awaited trip to Taiwan as the first Taiwan affairs chief from the mainland to do so in 65 years amid warming cross-Strait ties.
"I know that Taiwan is a society of diversity and it has mixed voices on many issues. That's why I hope to have more contact with locals from all walks of life, especially grassroots people, so as to understand their lives, thoughts and their opinions on cross-Strait relations," Zhang said at the airport amid both welcome and protest.
"I want to know the real Taiwan," he added.
FRUITFUL OFFICIAL MEETING
Zhang held a formal meeting with Wang Yu-chi, Taiwan's mainland affairs chief, in Taoyuan, in the north of the island, at the start of his four-day visit.
This was the second formal meeting between the chiefs of cross-Strait affairs from the mainland and Taiwan. Wang visited the mainland in February.
"The overall situation of cross-Strait relations has been stable and new progress has been made this year," Zhang said during the meeting.
"Despite some new circumstances, the direction of peaceful development of cross-Strait ties has not changed and exchanges and cooperation in various fields have not been suspended," he said, adding that the fundamental reason for these trends is that promoting peaceful development of ties is the mainstream opinion of both sides.
Zhang called for enhanced trust, exchanges and political basis between the two sides to ensure that the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations is not interrupted.
During their meeting, the two sides acknowledged that mutual visits between cross-Strait affairs chiefs from both sides are a key part of the communication mechanism set down during the first formal meeting, said Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman for the mainland's Taiwan affairs office, at a press briefing after the meeting.
Hailing the two-hour Zhang-Wang meeting as "an important step" to implement the mechanism, Ma said the two sides agreed to improve the regular communication channel between their departments, deepen exchanges, and settle prominent problems in the development of cross-Strait ties.
The two sides also agreed to push forward follow-up agreements to the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, explore practical ways to jointly develop their economy, and join in regional cooperation.
They agreed to continue negotiation on allowing the mainland-based Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits and Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation to set up offices on each other's side and tackle leftover issues "as early as possible."
The two sides will also try to settle issues concerning mainland travelers' transfer trips via Taiwan and further facilitating cross-Strait personnel exchanges.
In addition, the two agreed to foster the cross-Strait tourism market and promote cultural, educational, scientific and media exchanges.
"My flight from Beijing to Taipei took me less than three hours. But it took us 65 years to make that flight possible," Zhang said during the meeting.
He said mutual visits made by himself and Wang within six months and the setting up of a communication mechanism between cross-Strait affairs authorities on both sides would have been "unimaginable" in earlier years.
While extending his welcome to Zhang, Wang Yu-chi said cross-Strait relations have witnessed "twists and turns," and even the smallest progress has not come easily. His meetings with Zhang over the last six months are the result of shelving differences and seeking win-win solutions. The meetings are the best proof of steady progress toward peace and stability, he said.
Zhang expressed hope that both sides enhance mutual political trust, step up communication and cooperation, and boost grassroots exchanges between people, especially the younger generation, from both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
Comparing cross-Strait ties to a boat sailing against the current, Zhang urged both sides to "keep forging ahead or risk being left lagging behind."
"As long as people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait work together, we will be able to overcome the current difficulties and attain new development in cross-Strait ties, which will benefit all," he said.
Relations between the mainland and Taiwan stalled when the Kuomintang, led by Chiang Kai-shek, fled to Taiwan in 1949 after defeat in a civil war.
Business and personnel exchanges resumed in the late 1980s, and in the early 1990s the two sides started to engage with each other through the mainland's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, and its Taiwan counterpart, the Straits Exchange Foundation.
In 2005, Taiwan's then Kuomintang chairman, Lien Chan met with then Communist Party of China chief Hu Jintao in the first talks between leaders of the two parties in six decades.
On this current trip, Zhang is to spend three whole days going deep into grassroots regions across the island to chat with experts, college students, farmers, fishermen, members of minority groups, religious people, business people as well as spouses from the mainland about mainland-Taiwan relations and mainland's policies for the island.
"It shows that the mainland, instead of avoiding problems, seeks to solve them with a sincere attitude," said Chen Xiancai with the Taiwan Research Institute of Xiamen University.
Chen described Zhang's focus on learning Taiwanese people's opinions as "a highlight of the trip."
Zhu Weidong with the Taiwan Research Institute under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences expressed his hope that the two sides will try to "find a balance within the communication framework based on what each side wants and can do" in order to achieve a breakthrough for a more healthy, stable and sustainable relations.
"As cross-Strait relations have entered a 'deep-water' stage, it's inevitable that various problems will be encountered. But through face-to-face talks and mutual visits, we can boost efficiency, reduce misunderstanding and keep conflicts under control," according to Zhu.
Liu Hong, professor with the Beijing Union University, hailed the trip as "a new step for cross-Strait relations."
Liu especially praised Zhang's focus on the island's grassroots level and its younger generations as the mainland's new method to improve its management of Taiwan affairs.
Zhang is also scheduled to visit New Taipei City, Taichung, Kaohsiung and Changhua County.