China, Taiwan heads to hold historic meet here
THE historic meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou in Singapore this Saturday is aimed at cementing a political foundation for peaceful development and mutual benefit, both governments said.
China's Taiwan Affairs Office head Zhang Zhijun was quoted in a report by the Xinhua news agency yesterday as saying the meeting will "mark a start of direct exchange and communication between leaders of the mainland and Taiwan".
Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang (KMT) said in an online statement that the meeting will be a major watershed for the two sides to "realise mutually beneficial cooperation".
The first meeting of presidents from both sides since the Chinese civil war ended and the KMT fled to Taiwan in 1949 will take place after Mr Xi's two-day state visit to Singapore from tomorrow to mark 25 years of diplomatic relations.
A spokesman for Singapore's Foreign Affairs Ministry said the Republic was requested by both sides to help facilitate the meeting and it was happy to do so as "a close and longstanding friend" of both.
Mr Xi and Mr Ma will reportedly hold separate press conferences and have dinner together. Mr Zhang said both will greet each other as "mister", instead of their titles, as neither officially recognises the other as head of state.
The unexpected announcement on late Tuesday night by Mr Ma's spokesman has surprised many, given how recent actions and words by both presidents had dampened expectations of such a meeting.
Mr Xi reportedly rejected a request from Mr Ma to meet last November at the Apec Summit in Beijing. Mr Ma had said previously he would not meet with a Chinese president while in office unless there was a need and public support.
Observers say a key factor for the meeting is a mutual desire to improve KMT's chances at Taiwan's presidential election next January, where the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is forecast to wrest power.
Tsai Ing-wen, the DPP's presidential candidate who is leading KMT chairman and candidate Eric Chu in opinion polls, yesterday criticised the "hasty and chaotic" manner of the announcement as "damaging to Taiwan's democracy".
Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council head Andrew Hsia told reporters that the meeting was broached by Mr Zhang and that there was nothing rushed or opaque about Taiwan's push for it to take place.
Elsewhere, most are cautiously optimistic, with Washington welcoming steps to try and reduce tensions and improve cross-strait relations.
"But we will have to see what actually comes out of the meeting," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest on the meeting between its strategic rival China and ally Taiwan.
The Taiwan stock market yesterday marked its highest close since July on optimism that the meeting would improve cross-strait ties.