Chinese President Xi Jinping's meeting with Taiwan's opposition leader Tuesday underscored China's key message to the island's independence-leaning administration: The price of not recognizing Taiwan as part of the Chinese nation, as Beijing demands, is access to China's highest levels of power.
Xi's meeting with Nationalist Party Chairwoman Hung Hsiu-chu at the Great Hall of the People in the heart of Beijing comes months after China cut off communication and exchanges with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen's administration. Diplomatically, China has also sought to isolate the island even more by having its representatives barred from international gatherings.
While Xi referred to neither of those issues in his opening remarks before the media, he reiterated the importance of the "one-China principle" and the "'92 consensus," referring to an agreement reached at a breakthrough meeting that year reinforcing the principle. Beijing says the agreement forms the basis for all future contacts and exchanges — and must be explicitly endorsed by Tsai.
"To ensure that the country can't be separated and ensure the fundamental interests of the Chinese nation is the common will of all Chinese people," Xi said, according to footage shown by Hong Kong's Phoenix TV.
The meeting marked Xi's highest-profile talks with a Taiwanese political figure since he met then-President Ma Ying-jeou in Singapore late last year for a one-day summit.
Xi said that China "resolutely opposes" Taiwan's formal independence and that the sides should "continue to push forward the cooperation in all fields, and continue to improve the sentiment for the benefits of the peoples, and strive for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation."
Although the Communists and Nationalists were bitter foes for decades, they have found common cause in recent years in their opposition to Taiwan's independence and desire for closer economic ties.
Underscoring those ties, hundreds of representatives from the two sides will gather on Wednesday for what is being called a "forum on peaceful development," to discuss issues from politics to economics, culture, social issues and youth.
In her remarks to Xi, Hung noted that while more formal channels for communication are currently blocked, the Nationalists "cannot shirk its responsibility to help civil society though the communication channels between the Communist Party and the Nationalists" to solve problems.
She said the Nationalists wanted to help maintain communication between the sides to facilitate economic, cultural, social and other exchanges and explore the possibility of a peace settlement.
Hung said efforts should be made to eliminate the "dangerous turmoil" caused by the independence-leaning government to "preserve the hard-won harmony" between the two sides.
"Although the Nationalists are not the governing party, we will never, for a second, forget the mission of cross-Straits relations," she said.
Hung's election as Nationalist boss was widely seen as recompense for her being dumped as the party's candidate to run against Tsai in the January election. She is seen as the standard bearer for the party's more conservative pro-unification wing made up largely of those who followed Chiang Kai-shek to Taiwan after the Communist military victory on the Chinese mainland in 1949 and their descendants.
Under another candidate, the Nationalists went on to lose the presidency in January by a landslide, along with their parliamentary majority.
On Monday, Hung and her delegation paid their respects at the mausoleum of original Nationalist leader and Chinese President Sun Yat-sen in the former capital of Nanjing. Sun, who is revered by both the Nationalists and the Communists, inspired the former enemies to "work together to fight for the national rejuvenation and improve people's livelihood," Hung said.
"We will create a prosperous future. (As long as) both sides of the Taiwan Strait cooperate and develop peacefully, our common wish will come true," she said in remarks carried by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.
Despite the keen rivalry between the Nationalists and Tsai's DPP, Tsai's spokesman Alex Huang said Monday that the government sees "all normal people-to-people exchanges" with China in a positive light.
"The two sides should enhance mutual understanding and promote the peaceful development of bilateral relations through meaningful dialogue and exchanges without political preconditions," Huang was quoted as saying by Taiwan's official Central News Agency.
However, he added that all political parties should "stand by the people" and support the government's policy on cross-strait ties. He also added that only the government was authorized to forge agreements on behalf of Taiwan.