BEIJING (Reuters) - China said on Monday it was keen on a meeting between President Xi Jinping and Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, but signaled it was in no rush to set a venue or timeframe for what would be a historic get-together.
Since taking office in 2008, Ma has signed a series of landmark trade and economic agreements with China, cementing China's position as Taiwan's largest trading partner.
But Taiwan said last week that China had rebuffed as "inappropriate" a request for the two men to meet at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing.
Fan Liqing, spokeswoman of China's Taiwan Affairs Office, told reporters the subject of a Xi-Ma summit was "not a topic for discussion" during last week's landmark meeting between top Chinese and Taiwan government officials.
That meeting was an important step in pushing overall cross-Strait relations, she said, adding that further steps would follow, promising to benefit people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
"As for a meeting between the leaders on both sides of the Strait, we have said many times that this is something we have upheld for many years, and we have always had an open, positive attitude towards it," Fan said.
"Compatriots on both sides of the Strait all hope that the leaders can meet."
She declined to elaborate on the topic of an appropriate venue for the two presidents to meet, adding, "APEC has its own rules, which should be handled in accordance with the memorandums of understandings."
China and Taiwan have been ruled separately since Nationalist forces, defeated by the Communists, fled to the island at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. China considers Taiwan a renegade province and has never ruled out the use of force to bring it under its control.
But in recent years the two sides have built up extensive economic ties, and last week they held their first direct government-to-government talks, a big step towards expanding cross-strait dialogue beyond trade.
Yet booming trade has not brought progress on political reconciliation or reduced military readiness on either side. Many in democratic Taiwan fear autocratic China's designs for their free-wheeling island.
In October, Xi told Ma's envoy to last year's APEC summit, Vincent Siew, that a political solution to the standoff between China and Taiwan could not be postponed forever.
But Ma later said he saw no urgency to hold political talks and he wanted to focus on trade.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)