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  Taiwan, China Presidents to meet for the first time

Taiwan, China Presidents to meet for the first time

Published : Nov 5, 2015, 3:32 am IST
Updated : Nov 5, 2015, 3:32 am IST

The Presidents of China and Taiwan will meet this weekend in Singapore with a handshake that will mark a seismic shift in a relationship frozen in enmity since 1949.

Xi Jinping
 Xi Jinping

The Presidents of China and Taiwan will meet this weekend in Singapore with a handshake that will mark a seismic shift in a relationship frozen in enmity since 1949.

When Taiwan’s leader Ma Ying-jeou meets his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, it will be an unprecedented official stamp on a seven-year rapprochement that has seen the launch of direct flights, trade deals and a tourism boom as the two sides have forged previously unthinkable ties. Their split at the end of a civil war on the mainland in 1949 was the start of decades of hostility as self-ruled Taiwan forged its own identity and developed into a democracy, while Beijing insisted it was still part of its territory to be reunited by force if necessary.

 

The island became a cold war outpost with the United States its major ally, committed to defending Taiwan against any Chinese aggression.

But when Ma came to power in 2008 promising better relations would lead to prosperity, ties swiftly warmed with high-level talks resumed for the first time in over 10 years.

Political sensitivities have meant the burgeoning relationship has not been overtly played out — the first government-to-government meetings only took place last year.

Now it will be formally sealed at the highest level. China hailed the talks as a milestone in a dispatch on the state Xinhua news agency that said the two sides would “exchange views on promoting the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations”, referring to the stretch of water that separates them.

 

“For the past seven years... The two sides have built up mutual trust and opened up a path of peaceful development,” it cited Zhang Zhijun, head of the mainland’s Taiwan affairs office, as saying.

There were few other details on the substance of the summit.

Mr Ma’s spokesperson said that the goal is to “secure cross-Strait peace,” but that there would be no agreement signed nor any joint statement issued.

To avoid the risk of a protocol problem over the title “President”, Xinhua cited Zhang as saying that the two leaders will call each other “Mister”.

“This meeting will be crucial,” said political analyst Alexander Huang of Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies at Tamkang University. “It will allow cross-strait ties to move into a new chapter.”

 

But some observers say both China and Mr Ma’s ruling Kuomintang (KMT) risk a backlash at presidential elections in January. Public support for the KMT has plummeted, with its China-friendly policy a major factor.

Opponents have accused Mr Ma of selling out the island by attending the meeting with Mr Xi.

Five young protesters were arrested on Wednesday afternoon for throwing smoke devices and eggs near the presidential office in Taipei and political opponents gathered outside Parliament earlier in the day. The main opposition Beijing-sceptic Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) — tipped to win the presidency in January — slammed the meeting. “Any interaction between the two sides can only happen when it will benefit the country’s free and democratic development as well as regional stabilisation,” it said.

 

The US will also be watching closely — the White House gave a cautious welcome to any steps to reduce cross-strait tensions. “On the one hand it likes this thaw and improvement of relations

Location: Taiwan, Taipei