BEIJING - With smiles for the cameras and an agreement to open representative offices, long-time rivals China and Taiwan held historic talks Tuesday in the mainland city of Nanjing.
The landmark meeting represents the first direct government-to-government talks since the end of China's civil war in 1949.
Ever since Chairman Mao's Communist Party forced Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Party to flee to the island of Taiwan, off China's southeast coast, official contact between Beijing and Taipei has been limited and conducted through proxy or semi-official organizations.
China has never ruled out taking over self-governed Taiwan by force, to recover what Beijing considers a renegade province. But the public threats of previous decades have given way to closer economic ties across the Taiwan Straits in recent years.
Reflecting these warmer relations, Taiwan's mainland affairs chief Wang Yu-chi met his Chinese counterpart Zhang Zhijun, head of the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office. This first-ever official meeting was "unimaginable" in earlier years, said Wang.
"Being able to sit down and talk is a really valuable opportunity, considering that the two sides were once almost at war," he said, Reuters news agency reported.
"Today's cross-Strait situation has been hard-earned through efforts of generations," said China's Zhang, reported the state-run Xinhua news agency.
"We should cherish it and work together to maintain this favorable momentum," he said. "We should be determined to avoid any further fluctuations and setbacks."
The breakthrough meeting is unlikely to produce much political progress but remains heavy with symbolism.
Wang began his 4-day visit in Nanjing, the former capital of Republican China under Nationalist Party rule. The talks Tuesday took place in a hotel close to the mausoleum of Sun Yat-sen, the revolutionary revered by both Beijing and Taipei as the founder of modern China.
Some Taiwanese, including legislators from Taiwan's opposition Democratic Progressive Party, have expressed unease about closer ties with mainland China. Diplomatic pressure by the Peoples Republic of China and the lure of the huge Chinese market have succeeded in isolating democratic Taiwan, whose formal name is the Republic of China.
At the ongoing Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Taiwanese athletes must compete as "Chinese Taipei," though the people of Taiwan have never lived under China's Communist Party rule.