Taiwan, China leaders to hold historic meeting in Singapore

Saturday’s encounter will be the first meeting of leaders from both countries since the Chinese civil war ended in 1949

File photographs of Taiwan’s  president Ma Ying-jeou (L) and  Chinese president Xi Jinping. Photograph: Reuters

File photographs of Taiwan’s president Ma Ying-jeou (L) and Chinese president Xi Jinping. Photograph: Reuters

 

After decades of division, China’s president Xi Jinping will meet Ma Ying-jeou, leader of the self-ruled island of Taiwan, in Singapore on Saturday for the first ever meeting between the chiefs of the two bitterly divided sides.

This is the highest profile meeting of the two administrations in more than 60 years.

After defeat by the Communists during the civil war in 1949, the Nationalist government under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan, and since then it has remained one of the biggest flashpoints in the region.

China claims sovereignty over Taiwan and does not recognise the island as a state, labelling it a renegade province to be retaken by force if necessary.

However, ties have improved since president Ma Ying-jeou took office in 2008. The US, which is a long-term ally of Taiwan, has pledged to support Taiwan if China ever threatens the island.

“In line with the one-China principle, the two sides across the Taiwan Strait reached the pragmatic arrangement, showing the spirit of shelving difference while respecting for each other,” the official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported, citing Zhang Zhijun, head of the Taiwan Work Office of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council.

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Politically, Taiwan’s KMT or Kuomintang, is under pressure. It was hammered in local elections last year, which was seen as a blow against Mr Ma’s push for closer ties with China.

The opposition is the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which wants independence and whose candidate is the presidential election frontrunner, Tsai Ing-wen.

In 1993, Singapore was the venue for the first direct talks between China and Taiwan since 1949.

The two leaders will meet for consultations in Singapore and then have dinner, and Mr Zhang described the meeting as a “milestone” for cross-Strait relations, after “hardships and twists since 1949.”

“The realisation of the meeting between Xi and Ma results from concerted efforts of both sides and all compatriots, benefiting from accumulated fruits achieved in the peaceful development of the cross-Strait relations,” Mr Zhang said.

From the Taiwan side, Chen Yi-hsin said Mr Ma’s aim was trying “to promote peace cross the Taiwan Strait and maintain status quo”.

The timing of the meeting is crucial, because it comes just three months before Taiwanese elections, in which Ms Tsai is polling well, a big headache for Beijing.

From her side, Ms Tsai has said she welcomes dialogue with Chinese leaders, but Beijing has refused to meet her, indicating it does not trust her because of her party’s independence agenda.

The talks are very tenuous. In a statement, Mr Ma’s office said that no agreement would be signed and no communiqué was expected.

According to Xinhua, the two leaders will address each other as “mister” in their historic meeting, and they will “exchange views on promoting peaceful development of cross-Strait relations, discuss major issues on deepening cross-Strait co-operation in various areas and improving the people’s welfare, in a bid to safeguard and further push forward peaceful development of cross-Strait relations.”

In April 2005, then-president Hu Jintao met the chairman of the KMT, Lien Chan, for what was the first meeting between top leaders of the two political parties in 60 years.