Leaders of China, Taiwan to meet for first time in six decades

SINGAPORE, Nov 7:  Leaders of political rivals Taiwan and China will meet today for the first time in more than 60 years for talks that come amid rising anti-Beijing sentiment on the self-ruled democratic island and weeks ahead of elections there.
The talks between China President Xi Jinping and Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, the first such meeting since China’s civil war ended in 1949, are to be held in the neutral venue of Singapore.
They come ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections on Taiwan which the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is favoured to win, something Beijing is desperate to avoid.
The Nationalists, also known as the Kuomintang (KMT), retreated to Taiwan after losing the civil war to the Communists, who are still in charge in Beijing. China has never renounced the use of force to bring what it considers a breakaway province under its control.
But while bilateral trade, investment and tourism have blossomed – particularly since Ma and his KMT took power in 2008 – there is deep suspicion on both sides and no progress has been made on any sort of political settlement.
“I am here to promise to everyone, we must be doing our best to reach the goal that we set previously, making the Taiwan Strait more peaceful, making the two sides more cooperative,” Ma told reporters before boarding his flight to Singapore.     Ma, chatting to reporters on board, as Taiwan air force jets escorted his aircraft out of Taiwan air space, said he was neither too nervous nor too relaxed about the meeting.     “This is an important task. We need to do well at every stage,” he said. No agreements are expected in what is seen as a highly symbolic get-together at a luxury hotel in Singapore, a largely ethnic Chinese city-state that has maintained good ties with both for decades.     China’s official Xinhua news agency said Xi and Ma would “exchange views on promoting the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations and discuss major issues in deepening cross-Strait cooperation and improving people’s welfare”.
‘HISTORIC JUNCTURE’
But the handshake sure to take place comes as Xi hopes to cement his place among China’s pantheon of great leaders and Ma, stepping down next year due to term limits, tries to shape his legacy marred by growing anti-Beijing feeling in Taiwan.
“At this historic juncture of a meeting between leaders from both sides of Taiwan Strait, we genuinely hope that both sides can show sincerity, demonstrate goodwill, meet each other half way and confront their difficulties,” China’s official People’s Daily wrote today.
While China is laudatory, concerns have been raised in Taiwan. DDP leader and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen, in a statement on her Facebook page, said the meeting could only be considered historic if it was able to express respect for Taiwan’s democracy and that there should be no preconditions for the peaceful and stable development of ties with China.
“We will wait and see if this can be achieved. I want to again remind President Ma that if he cannot do this then the people of Taiwan will be very disappointed,” she said.     Ma and Xi meet in the afternoon. Both sides will hold news conferences after a short closed-door meeting, followed by dinner before Ma flies back to Taiwan later in the day.     “It will be of huge symbolic importance, but will not be a ‘game-changer’, as Taiwanese voters are wary of the mainland’s rising influence over the island”, Yoel Sano, head of political risk with BMI Research, said of the meeting.     Ma will present Xi bottles of spirits made on two groups of islands just off the mainland that have been occupied by Taiwan forces since the end of the civil war.     He will also present Xi with a ceramic sculpture of a Taiwan blue magpie perched on a leafy green branch as a gift for their first meeting, a bird unique to the island, Taiwan’s presidential office said.     Chinese state media said the leaders would eat their dinner at a round table, presumably to avoid the thorny protocol issue of who would sit at the head of it.  (AGENCIES)

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