Cross-strait thaw: Leaders of China, Taiwan to hold first ever meeting


Xi-Ma

In what will be the first meeting between leaders from People’s Republic of China and Taiwan since the end of a civil war in 1949, President Xi Jinping and Taiwan’s Ma Ying-jeou are set to hold their first ever cross-strait meeting in Singapore on November 7.

The meeting comes ahead of Taiwan’s elections in January and this latest development is seen as a move to influence the decisions of Taiwan’s voters. The leaders “would exchange views on promoting the peaceful development of cross-strait relations”, Zhang Zhijun, head of Beijing’s Taiwan affairs office, said. The dispute over the status of Taiwan’s sovereignty, which Beijing still regards as a province, has driven a build-up of its military presence in the region and has raised fears of conflict.

The ruling dispensation led by the KMT party in Taiwan is seen as favourably disposed towards China, while the opposition DPP wants to enhance Taiwan’s position as a de facto sovereign state. Criticising the planned meeting, the DPP said that it had been arranged in haste without popular support and looked like attempted political manipulation.

The meeting follows a warming of relations with China since 2008 when the Kuomintang party came to power. The DPP has asked Mr Ma to reassure Taiwan that the meeting will not affect the status of Taiwan. “The purpose of President Ma’s visit is to secure cross-strait peace and maintain the status quo of the Taiwan Straits,” Mr Ma’s spokesperson Charles Chen said in a statement. “No agreement will be signed, nor any joint statement be released,” he added.

The US,which has strategic interests in the region, welcomed the development, albeit cautiously. “We would certainly welcome steps that are taken on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to try and reduce tensions and improve cross-strait relations,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “But we will have to see what actually comes out of the meeting,” he added.

China still considers the island as a part of its territory even though the two sides have been governed separately since nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek and his KMT forces fled to Taiwan after losing the civil war to Mao Zedong’s communists in 1949. The latest development is a significant step forward given the hostility existing between the two sides.