In a diplomatic breakthrough, the leaders of China and Taiwan met for the first time in decades in Singapore to open a new chapter in cross-strait relations.
China’s President Xi Jinping and Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou met on November 7 in Singapore. This is the first meeting between the top leaders of the two sides since 1949. The two sides discussed a host of issues impacting bilateral relations. The people of China and Taiwan were compatriots, “one family with blood that is thicker than water,” Mr Xi said. “We are seated together here today so that the tragedies of history will not be repeated, so that the gains from peaceful development across the strait will not be won and again lost, so that compatriots on both sides of the strait continue making peaceful and tranquil lives, and so that succeeding generations can share a beautiful future,” added Mr Xi.
Pushing for closer relations with China during his presidency, Mr Ma was seen as favourably disposed towards China when compared to his political opponents in Taiwan. During Mr Ma’s tenure China and Taiwan had signed more than 20 agreements which led to an improvement in bilateral trade, direct flights and visitors between the two sides.
The Way Ahead
In an important confidence-building step, Mr Ma spoke about the need for a hotline to be set up between the heads of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) and Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC). Suggesting that the two sides reduce hostility and resolve disputes through peaceful means, while expanding cross-Strait exchanges in a bid to achieve win-win outcomes, Mr Ma underscored that “the two sides should cooperate and be committed to the revival of the Chinese nation, as the peoples of the both sides across the Strait are all Chinese descendants.”
The Taiwan leader raised issues regarding Taiwan’s international space and the problems faced by the self-proclaimed island state when participating in non-governmental organisations and global bodies. Addressing Mr Ma’s concerns, Mr Xi assured that he understood Taiwan’s need for more international space, as long as it does not go against the “one China” policy. China also welcomed Taiwan to take part in the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) after it had earlier rejected Taiwan’s entry into the grouping.
The sensitive topic of South China Sea disputes was raised by Taiwan, with Mr Ma expressing concerns about China’s missile deployment. Reassuring Taiwan, Mr Xi said that the deployment was not targeted at Taiwan.
Talking about a path for the long-term relationship between the two sides, Mr Ma said the meeting will have impact far beyond his term. “I may have six months left, but Mr Xi has seven more years to go,” added Mr Ma. With the rival DPP likely to win the elections, the future of the relationship is being speculated, considering that the rival party is pro-independence.
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