Finally, a bid to end enmity

Taiwan, China leaders in historic meeting

THE summit between the presidents of China and Taiwan promised warmer ties and was loaded with historic symbolism as both men sought to secure their legacy — but there were few concrete results in their bid to mend decades of estrangement.

China’s Xi Jinping and Taiwan’s Ma Ying-jeou shook hands for more than a minute to herald the start of a meeting once unthinkable due to the enmity between the two sides.

Xi’s rhetoric in Singapore likened China and Taiwan to part of the same family, while Ma urged cooperation and harmony.

It was the first time leaders had met since they split at the end of a civil war on the mainland in 1949, with Taiwan now a democracy with a fierce sense of identity.

But while the language and gestures sought to reflect a message of burgeoning friendship, there were no agreements announced.

“It’s historic, because it’s the first [meeting], but I would not say it’s very important because it was engaged in generalities — no specific issues were addressed, no promises were made that we know of, and Ma Ying-jeou, six months from now, will no longer be president of Taiwan,” the University of Nottingham’s China Policy Institute’s J Michael Cole said.

Ma will step down next year with the China-sceptic opposition expected to win presidential elections in January as public concern over closer ties with Beijing grows.

The summit was a chance for Ma to seal the dramatic seven-year rapprochement since he came to power and to underline what he says is a legacy of stability and peace for the region.

For Xi, it was an opportunity to reiterate his ultimate ambition of reunification.

“Beijing’s desire is to emphasise interdependence between Taiwan and China, not to reduce it. So it is in Beijing’s interest to maintain as many channels of communication as possible,” political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University JeanPierre Cabestan said.

The meeting triggered protests in Taiwan where opponents accuse Ma of selling out the island, while supporters praised him for raising sensitive issues.

Ma said he had expressed concern to Xi over missiles aimed at Taiwan and had argued for an end to the marginalisation of the island internationally.

But there was no sign that Xi had moved on either subject. Commentators see Taiwan’s democracy as the biggest impediment to unification with China.


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