Taiwan and China leaders to hold historic summit

Taiwan and China leaders to hold historic summitUnprecedented meeting of Ma and Xi before Taiwanese presidential elections.

The leaders of Taiwan and China are to hold their first cross-strait meeting since Taiwan broke away from the rest of China in 1949 after the Communist party won the bitter civil war against the Kuomintang.

The ensuing dispute over the independent status of Taiwan, which Beijing still regards as a renegade province, has driven a military build-up in the region and repeatedly raised fears of conflict.

The planned meeting on Saturday, announced by Taiwan late on Tuesday, comes at a highly sensitive time as Taiwan prepares to elect a new president in January. Relations with Beijing are at the heart of the contest.

The governing KMT, now known for its close relationship with Beijing, is trailing far behind the opposition Democratic Progressive party in opinion polls. The DPP wants to enhance Taiwan’s position as a de facto sovereign state.

A spokesman for Taiwan’s outgoing president, Ma Ying-jeou, said Mr Ma would meet the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, in Singapore. He said the meeting was designed to “consolidate cross-strait peace and maintain the status quo but not to sign any agreement or joint statement”.

Zhang Zhijun, head of Beijing’s Taiwan affairs office, said the leaders “would exchange views on promoting the peaceful development of cross-strait relations”, according to Xinhua, China’s state news agency.

The DPP criticised the planned meeting, saying it had been arranged in haste without popular support and looked like attempted political manipulation.

“Currently Taiwan is in an election period and President Ma chooses to conduct the meeting during this sensitive time, so how can people believe that this not a political manipulation to affect the election?” the party said in a statement.

Mr Xi will be in Singapore as part of a trip to Southeast Asia to boost ties with nations that have become increasingly concerned about China’s assertive stance in regional maritime disputes. He will first visit Vietnam, with which some of the most dangerous South China Sea clashes have occurred.

George Tsai, an expert on cross-strait relations at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University, said that the meeting between Mr Ma and Mr Xi was a “remarkable surprise”, which highlighted the Chinese president’s bold leadership.

“The traditional bureaucrats would recommend that it’s better not to meet at this time,” he said. “China is sending a signal to voters here that if you follow Ma’s footsteps then the peaceful development policy will be continued. If they do not, then it won’t be.”

Mr Tsai said that such a symbolic meeting could boost the position of the KMT among moderates in Taiwan.

Other commentators argued that this was a “desperate” move that could spark a backlash.

Gerrit van der Wees of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs, a Washington-based lobby group for Taiwan independence, said that Beijing “sees that the Kuomintang is in a tailspin” and wants to restrict future room for manoeuvre by Tsai Ing-wen, the DPP chair and presidential frontrunner.

Sean King of Park Strategies, a US-based public affairs adviser, argued that the historic meeting would have little impact on the outcome of the election and could even further damage the KMT, which recently ditched its presidential candidate because she was seen as too pro-Beijing.

“If anything, it’ll hurt Ma’s KMT, making the Blues look even more like Beijing’s preferred party,” he said.

Source: Financial Times
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