“Signs of warming ties” is how the international media defines KMT Chairman Wu Po-hsiung’s current visit to China. Reuters reports:

China and Taiwan edged closer to a resumption of fence-mending talks on Tuesday when the chairman of the island’s ruling party echoed the Chinese line that both sides are part of a single nation.

China, which has claimed Taiwan as its own since their split in 1949 amid civil war, has softened its policy towards the self-ruled island from pushing for unification with the threat of force to one of preventing a declaration of independence.

“Both sides are tied by blood to the Chinese nation and this cannot be obliterated by anyone,” Taiwan’s Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT), Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung said in Nanjing, the capital when the KMT ruled all of China.

Taiwan’s new president, Ma Ying-jeou, also made the pledge — a move Beijing considers a political necessity for talks frozen since 1999 to resume — in his May 20 inauguration speech.

On the thread on Ma’s inaugural speech we’ve been discussing exactly what Ma meant when he said that the “two sides of the Strait are both Chunghwa minzu.” Reuters apparently thinks it is a reference to an ethnic construction of Chinese identity, coded assimilationist rhetoric. Wu himself neatly straddles many of the ethnic identity issues in Taiwan. Wu is a Hakka, who were some of the earliest migrants to Taiwan. The Hakka constitute only a minuscule fraction of the people in China, but were something like 25% of the pre-1949 Taiwan population. “Being Hakka” is further confused because many Hakkas are Sinicized aboriginal groups who “became Hakka” when they assimilated to the dominant colonial majority. There is a long history of conflict between Hakka and non-Hakka (Hoklo) immigrants to Taiwan, with the result that the Hakka are predominantly pro-KMT, wooed by that party as part of its strategy of divide-n-rule based on ethnic politics. Hence the many layers of meaning in Wu telling an official of China that he is “of the same blood.” .

Reuters reports:

China spurned the DPP, which was routed in the March presidential elections by the KMT. The Nationalists oppose independence but are in no hurry to get into bed with China politically.

“In no hurry to get into bed with China politically.” It is May of 2008, the KMT and the CCP have been talking to each other privately for many years, and still no international media publication has mentioned the back channel talks. I guess since it’s been going on for years, it’s not news….

Another key cross-strait meeting is happening this week in Kaohsiung where university presidents from China and Taiwan are meeting to discuss exchanges.

Presidents of both Taiwanese and Chinese universities met in southern Taiwan’s Kaohsiung County Monday to share views on potential academic exchanges among the universities.

The conference was held at the I-Shou University in the southern county, and was followed by a symposium on science and technology covering topics in material science, environmental science, life science, and telecommunications.

Sixteen universities participated, including China’s Qingdao University and Ocean University of China as well as National Cheng Kung University and National University of Kaohsiung in Taiwan.

Conference participants exchanged views on the universities’ educational systems, enrollment, internationalization, management, and administrative systems.

Credit system and a joint degree program that requires certain years of learning in a domestic school and a couple of years in a foreign school were two focuses of discussions.

Student exchanges are already underway; I have two Chinese exchange students in my classes here at NCKU. The talks are being held against the backdrop of increasing financial pressure on Taiwan’s universities. The subsidy system set up in the 1990s encouraged a massive expansion in the university system (many construction firms opened universities to farm the government subsidy regime) resulting in a shortage of warm bodies to fill classrooms — forcing universities to raise tuition to stay alive — a perverse effect of subsidies intended to make it easier for kids to go to college. Further, with many universities having opened graduate and PHD programs in recent years, there is a steady and increasing supply of new PHDs entering the local academic market looking for work. Taiwan universities have been arguing that the island should open to students from China to fill the empty seats.

On the lighter side of cross-strait relations, Taiwan’s wedding photo business is hopping on the cargo cult bandwagon with the claim that 5,000 couples from China will be visiting to have wedding photos done here….

About 5,000 couples from China will get wedding photos taken at Taiwan’s world-renowned studios, which seldom receive them now due to political tensions, as part of a travel agreement, an industry source said on Monday.

A cultural promotion company close to the Chinese government has agreed with Taiwan’s Saromant International Wedding Photo Group chain to send the couples over on direct weekend flights expected to begin in July pending a long-awaited agreement between the two sides, said chain CEO Celine Liu.

About 20 couples from Beijing have signed for the first weekend flight, Liu told Reuters.

Taiwan, with 1,300 wedding studios seeking new business as local clients save their money in tight economic times, has long been known among ethnic Chinese in Hong Kong, Southeast Asia and the United States for packages that include attire for the bride and groom plus access to coastal or mountain photo scenery.

The wedding photo business is one of Taiwan’s most fascinating cultural products.

MEDIA NOTES: Reuters still has China and Taiwan “splitting in 1949″ although Taiwan was not owned by China at that time, but by Japan.