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“In the past 10 years the Taiwan Strait region has reached the most peaceful and most stable state in 60 years,” Mr. Ma gushed in his congratulatory message to outgoing General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Hu Jintao and incoming party chief Xi Jinping.

Curiously, Mr. Ma’s message to his mainland counterparts was not sent in his role as president of the Republic of China, but as chairman of the ruling Nationalist Party.

In the note, Mr. Ma stressed the lofty mission of joint efforts by the Chinese Communist Party and the Nationalist Party for “the grand revival of the Chinese nation.”

Unlike Mr. Hu’s predecessor, Jiang Zemin, who threatened Taiwan with missiles and hard-core diplomatic pressure, Mr. Hu was able to work together with the George W. Bush administration to rein in Taiwan’s independence-leaning forces.

Yet, unlike all the previous Chinese Communist leaders, including Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, the incoming Mr. Xi has the most intimate and first-hand knowledge and understanding of Taiwan.

For more than a decade, Mr. Xi built up his political resume as a reform-minded communist official in Fujian province, a stone’s throw from Taiwan across the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait.

In addition to its geographic proximity to Taiwan, Fujian shares close ancestral, linguistic, cultural, economic and political ties with the Taiwanese. Today, there are more Taiwanese businessmen and Taiwanese investment in Fujian than in any other region of China.

Mr. Xi is said to have a good reputation among many Taiwanese for being less strident and more willing to listen to the Taiwanese side of the six-decades-old political and military standoff.

“At this moment of your Party’s change of leadership,” Mr. Ma wrote to Mr. Xi in his note, “I eagerly await the continuation of our two parties’ more outstanding achievements in further promoting our deepening exchange and establishment of official liaison facilities on each other’s side.”

Closer ties will be easier said than done. At present, the Chinese government has hundreds of missiles — by some estimates as many as 1,500 — deployed along the Fujian coast and aimed at Taiwan.

Chinese military intelligence also has been running vigorous espionage operations against the island democracy. China has not relented on vows to invade and take Taiwan, and Beijing’s international isolation campaign against Taipei is continuing without any sign of easing.

Miles Yu’s column appears Thursdays. He can be reached at