sicboliveonline|Explainer: Straits Forum sees steady grassroots exchanges despite erratic cross-Strait relations

14 06

BEIJING, June 14 (Xinhua) -- The Straits Forum, which advocates inclusive and grassroots cross-Strait exchanges, is entering its 16th year with strong vitality despite the ups and downs of relations between the Chinese mainland and the Taiwan regionsicboliveonline.

This year, the main conference is scheduled to commence on Saturday at the forum's primary venue in the coastal city of Xiamen, east China's Fujian Province. Approximately 50 events will be held across various cities in the province, which is situated just across the Strait from Taiwan.

About 7,000 people from diverse backgrounds in Taiwan are expected to participate in the forum, including representatives of political parties, event co-sponsors, professionals in various industries, leaders of social organizations and members of religious circles.

The first Straits Forum was held in 2009, a year that witnessed a series of breakthroughs in cross-Strait relations. That year, the regular consultation mechanism between the mainland's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) and the Taiwan-based Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) began to take shape, with six agreements signed.

In the same year, mainland companies began formally investing in Taiwan, and regular air services between the two sides were launched. Thus direct cross-Strait mail, transport and trade links were established in full.

With booming economic cooperation and frequent interactions between authorities on both sides, the need of a smooth channel for people-to-people exchanges gave birth to the Straits Forum. Nearly 10,000 people attended the inaugural event, over 8,000 of whom were from Taiwan.

sicboliveonline|Explainer: Straits Forum sees steady grassroots exchanges despite erratic cross-Strait relations

But the rosy days of cross-Strait exchanges drew to a close when the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) took office in Taiwan in 2016.

The DPP authorities rejected the 1992 Consensus -- a common political foundation for cross-Strait dialogue, and the ARATS-SEF consultation mechanism was suspended. Tensions and confrontations have since risen due to the DPP's separatist attempts for "Taiwan independence."

Despite this altered political backdrop, the Straits Forum has persisted. More than 330,000 people from the mainland and Taiwan attended the forum over the last 15 years. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands were able to take part in forum events online or in person.

Past forums have seen young people seeking career opportunities, martial arts enthusiasts exchanging training tips, disabled people sharing their personal stories, community workers meeting with their counterparts across the Strait and followers of various religions holding discussions.

At these forums, a total of 139 preferential policies to boost cross-Strait exchanges and cooperation were announced, covering areas from air services and travel permits to employment and investment.

"The Straits Forum is like a carnival for people across the Strait. We sit down, chat and bring our hearts closer to each other," said Wu Chia-ying, vice president of the Association of Taiwan Investment Enterprises on the Mainland. "It is an annual rendezvous that we are very much looking for."

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