Presidents of Taiwan and China meet for first time ever

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President Xi Jinping of China and his Taiwanese counterpart Ma Ying-jeou shook hands Saturday in Singapore in their first-ever meeting seen as a historic breakthrough to reduce tensions between the rivals.

“It does not matter how much both sides across the strait have been through. Nothing can separate us,” Xi said in his opening remarks before the meeting at the Shangri-La Hotel.

The People’s Republic of China has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since the end of a civil war in 1949 and there are no formal cross-strait diplomatic relations.

After the meeting, Zhang Zhijun from China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said the “greatest threat to cross-strait relations is Taiwan independence.”

Xi told Ma that “at present, we are at the crossroads for choosing the direction and path for future development in cross-strait relations,” China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.

“We are sitting together today to prevent the historical tragedy from repeating itself, prevent the fruits from peaceful development of cross-strait ties from being lost again, enable compatriots across the strait to continue to create a peaceful life, and enable our next generations to share a bright future,” Xi said.

Zhang told reporters that Xi had promised Ma that China would honour the 1992 consensus and focus on development that would benefit both sides. The 1992 consensus is the agreement that there is only one China, but each is left to define “China” for itself.

Zhang added that Xi had expressed understanding for the Taiwanese interest in participating in international affairs, as long as it did not harm the One-China Policy.

Relations between both sides have thawed over the last seven years under Ma.

Taiwan’s president made a five-point proposal during the meeting. These included reducing hostility across the Taiwan Strait, expanding Taiwan-China exchanges and setting up a hotline.

Ma described Xi as “pragmatic” and “straightforward” and said the meeting was amicable.

He added that although he only had six months left in office Xi had seven years more as the leader of China, and that it was therefore important to lay the foundation of dialogue between both sides.

The two sides made it clear before the meeting that they would not sign any deals and would not issue a joint statement.

Chen Ming-chi, a China expert at Taiwan’s National Tsing Hua University Institute of Sociology, said Taiwan did not really gain any benefits from China at the meeting.

“In terms of international participation, or the removal of missiles aimed at Taiwan, China did not give any clear answer,” Chen told dpa.

The announcement that the meeting would take place came as a surprise that sparked debate and protests in Taiwan. The opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) criticized Ma’s decision to have such a meeting so close to the end of his term as president, as elections will be held January 16.

In Taiwan’s capital Taipei, hundreds of people gathered outside the Economic Affairs Ministry, launching a protest march towards the presidential office, footage on the Apple Daily website showed.

“No Ma-Xi meeting! Stop trade in goods negotiations with China!” they shouted, referring to a trade deal that officials said could be signed by the end of the year.

Dozens of people protested outside Taipei Songshan Airport before Ma flew to Singapore.

Three Taiwanese who flew to Singapore to protest against the meeting were barred from entering the country by Singaporean immigration and will be repatriated, the Apple Daily reported.

Ma said Thursday he hoped his meeting with Xi will herald the start of regular top-level dialogue, but said that there were currently “no conditions” for reunification.

DPP chairwoman and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen said the outcome of the meeting was a disappointment to the Taiwanese people.

“We had expected that President Ma would talk about democracy and liberty in Taiwan, the existence of the Republic of China and, more importantly, Taiwanese people’s right to freely make their choices. But he said none of the above.”

Tsai, who said this week that she would not rule out meeting Xi if she is elected in January, added: “Taiwanese people will never accept a political framework that is set in the absence of democratic procedure and is not sustained by public opinion.”

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