China has sent its first-ever ministerial-level official to Taiwan for four days of meetings to rebuild ties with the self-ruled island.

Zhang Zhijun, Minister of Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office, reached the island’s main airport on Wednesday to speak privately with his government counterpart. He sidestepped scores of anti-China protesters to enter a nearby hotel for the talks.

In 2008, Beijing set aside its military threats to sign agreements binding its economy to that of the investment-hungry island.

Dialogue opened that year as Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou agreed to put off political issues to build trust and improve the island’s economy through tie-ups with China.

But in March, hundreds of student-led protesters forcibly occupied Parliament in Taipei to stop ratification of a two-way service trade liberalisation pact.

“Zhang wants to show to the world, Taiwan and the mainland included, that the two sides are moving closer in spite of the Sunflower Movement earlier this year,” says Leonard Chu, a China studies professor retired from National Chengchi University in Taipei.

Mr. Zhang and his Taiwan counterpart Wang Yu-chi are expected to discuss future rounds of import tariff cuts and establishing consular-style offices helpful to investors and tourists. Taiwan said it will make no announcements during the visit, which Beijing described as a chance for its Minister to understand the island better.

The main opposition party said it will not organise protests against Mr. Zhang, though smaller protest groups are vowing to follow him during the visit.

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