TAIPEI -- Beijing's top envoy on Taiwan Monday called for "solving disputes through consultation, and replace confrontation with cooperation", as he arrived for a historic visit to the island.
In a statement released upon his arrival, Chen Yunlin, president of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS), also expressed belief that the majority of Taiwan compatriots support cross-Straits interaction for a win-win relationship.
"I am bringing the good wishes of the mainland's 1.3 billion people to Taiwan's 23 million compatriots," Chen, the most senior mainland envoy to visit the island since 1949, said later at a welcome ceremony at Grand Hotel.
"This visit has not come by easily. Only through talks can we build trust and only through cooperation can we create a win-win economic situation."
Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) Chairman Chiang Pin-kung Monday called Chen's visit "a historic moment in cross-Straits exchanges that we've waited for 60 years" as he welcomed his mainland counterpart at the hotel.
Chen, who heads a 60-strong delegation, will hold talks with Chiang this morning - the first time ARATS and SEF leaders are meeting in Taiwan since the two semi-official bodies started talks in 1993.
The meetings aim to build on talks held in Beijing in June, the first direct dialogue between the two sides after a nine-year gap. The dialogue led to the launch of regular direct flights across the Straits and measures to boost tourism.
Chen, 67, said he felt "very excited to set foot on the lovely land for the first time and be in such close contact with Taiwan compatriots".
He stressed that compatriots across the Straits are part of one family and their interests rely on the peaceful development of cross-Straits relations.
Chen said the mission of his visit "is clear and well-defined". The talks "will cover only issues that benefit people across the Straits and involve neither political issues pertaining to cross-Straits ties nor Taiwan's internal political affairs", he told reporters.
Wang Yi, minister of the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, said Chen's visit "is of historic significance".
"The hard ice between the two sides has been shattered, the road has already been opened," Wang said as he saw off Chen at Beijing Capital International Airport Monday morning.
"We should cherish, maintain and develop the hard-earned situation."
Wang stressed that a majority of Taiwan people welcome Chen's visit to the island and support better cross-Straits relations although he knows "there are different voices on the island because Taiwan is a multi-faceted society".
Pro-independence supporters of the Democratic Progressive Party Monday staged protests near Grand Hotel under tight security. Officials say more than 7,000 police officers have been deployed to ensure Chen's safety.
Wang added that cross-Straits consultations should follow a step-by-step pattern: The two sides should first tackle issues that are relatively easier to solve before tackling more sensitive issues.
In Taipei, Chen said the Chinese mainland and Taiwan face grim economic challenges brought by the global financial crisis and economic slow-down.
"It is imperative that the two sides join hands to help each other to cope with the situation," he said.
The ARATS and SEF are scheduled to discuss ways tomorrow to boost economic cooperation to help deal with the challenges posed by the global financial crisis.
Negotiators from both sides held a preparatory session Monday afternoon, and they are expected to sign four deals on air and shipping links, postal service and food safety on Tuesday.