A Chinese envoy is visiting Taipei for city-to-city dialogue amid frosty relations between the sides following the election of Taiwan's new pro-independence government in January.

The visit by Shanghai Communist Party official Sha Hailin marks a rare point of direct contact between the island and China following Beijing's June announcement that it was freezing contacts between the bodies responsible for communication between them.

Sha heads the Chinese financial hub's United Front Work Department, a body generally used in outreach to minority groups and entities not under the direct control of the ruling Communist Party.

About a dozen politicians from pro-independence parties staged an airport protest over Sha's arrival, saying his rank was insufficient to merit a meeting with Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je.

China claims Taiwan as its own territory.