The meeting between Chen Yunlin and President Ma Ying-jeou, the highlight of a four-day visit to the island by Mr Chen, had been overshadowed by controversy over how the Chinese envoy would address his host.
In the event, he successfully ducked the issue – by offering no verbal greeting at all.
Richard Spencer in Beijing
He could not use Mr Ma’s title, since China does not recognise the Taiwan government’s autonomy.
But he could not address him simply as Mr Ma without paying disrespect to his host – and playing into the hands of Mr Ma’s anti-China opposition, who were already accusing him of selling out to Beijing by inviting him.
So during their five-minute public meeting, he uttered just one line, as he handed over a gift of a painting: “I offer this to you. This is by a master artist.”
Mr Chen’s visit is the fruit of a warming of ties between the two former enemies, who are still technically at war. Taiwan is ruled by the same political party that fought the Communist Party for control of China in the 1930s and 40s, and the People’s Republic still claims sovereignty over it.
Mr Ma has improved relations since his election in March by promising not to move towards a declaration of formal independence.
Mr Chen signed a number of trade deals on his visit, but the two sides did not attempt to make progress on all-important security issues, such as the 1,000 missiles the Chinese People’s Liberation Army has targeted at the island.
“We cannot deny that differences and challenges still exist, such as Taiwan’s security and Taiwan’s position in the international community.” Mr Ma said at the meeting.
Mr Ma’s opponents from the Democratic Progressive Party, whom he defeated in the election, staged noisy protests against Mr Chen’s visit and said the president was “selling out” the island.
“Ma is sucking up to China by degrading Taiwan’s sovereignty and this humiliates our country,” said Ko Kai-liang, 40, a chemical company worker.
Nevertheless the visit will be regarded in both Beijing and Taipei as a success – especially the subtlety of Mr Chen’s diplomacy.
For he did not quite fail to address Mr Ma: the picture was of a horse, the meaning of the Taiwanese president’s surname.