Derechos | Equipo Nizkor
Leaders of China and Taiwan Talk of Peace Across the Strait
President Xi Jinping of China met with President Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan on Saturday in the first-ever encounter between leaders of the neighbors and longtime rivals, an act both sides described as a breakthrough gesture meant to promote peace and mutual prosperity.
Mr. Xi and Mr. Ma began their brief talks with a handshake that went on for more than a minute, with both men smiling broadly and turning side to side so the hundreds of reporters in the meeting room at the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore could document the moment. The meeting is a high point in the two leaders' efforts to bridge the divisions of civil war and decades of animosity.
When the two men sat down to start their talks, Mr. Xi spoke first and said their encounter was a historic step that opened a new chapter in relations between the two sides. He said that the people of China and Taiwan were compatriots, "one family with blood that is thicker than water."
"Respected Mr. Ma Ying-jeou, good afternoon," Mr. Xi said in comments that were broadcast live on Chinese television.
"History will remember today," he continued. "We are seated together here today so that the tragedies of history will not be repeated, so that the gains from peaceful development across the strait will not be won and again lost, so that compatriots on both sides of the strait continue making peaceful and tranquil lives, and so that succeeding generations can share a beautiful future."
Mr. Ma laid out several proposals for improving relations between China and Taiwan.
"Both sides should respect each other's values and way of life," he said. "Over the past 66 years, the two sides have developed as different systems. Turning military conflict into peaceful development has definitely not been an overnight effort."
Mr. Xi endorsed a hotline between the two sides that Mr. Ma proposed as a tool for handling emergencies and preventing accidental clashes. Mr. Xi said it would be useful for "avoiding misjudgments," according to Zhang Zhijun, the head of China's Taiwan Affairs Office.
It was the first meeting of the leader of the Republic of China, more commonly called Taiwan, and the leader of the People's Republic of China. The two governments have been rivals since 1949, when Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of the Chinese Nationalists, fled to Taiwan after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong's Communists, who established the People's Republic of China that year. Those two leaders last met in 1945.
Mr. Xi's comments on Saturday were threaded with words underscoring his view that the meeting did not represent any weakening of China's claim that Taiwan belongs to it as part of one country. "We should use our actions to demonstrate to the world that Chinese people on both sides of the strait fully have the ability and wisdom to solve their own problems," he said.
Mr. Zhang cited Mr. Xi as saying that the greatest threat to peaceful development of the two sides was "Taiwan independence forces instigating splittist activities and inciting compatriots' enmity and opposition."
Mr. Ma said later in a news conference that he had raised the issue of China's military and missiles arrayed on its coast near Taiwan. He said Mr. Xi replied that those missiles were not, on the whole, targeting Taiwan.
The 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait that divides China and Taiwan has at times in the past six decades been at the center of the conflict, with heavy artillery bombardments of islands off the Chinese mainland in the 1950s and Chinese missile launchings ahead of Taiwan's 1996 presidential elections.
Mr. Xi has riled neighbors including Vietnam -- which he visited on his way to Singapore -- with China's aggressive defense of territorial claims and the construction of islands in the South China Sea. The meeting on Saturday offered a chance to portray himself as a peacemaker able to overcome longstanding differences.
Mr. Ma has pushed for closer ties with China during his seven and a half years in office, during which the two sides signed more than 20 agreements. Bilateral trade, direct flights and visitors to Taiwan from China all increased significantly. He had long wanted a meeting with Mr. Xi, and he said that the encounter, which was announced late Tuesday, was the product of two years of negotiations.
But Saturday's meeting might not be repeated soon. Mr. Ma's second and final term as president ends next year. Voters of the democratic, self-ruled island have grown increasingly wary of China's embrace, and last year student-led protesters occupied Taiwan's legislature for nearly a month to thwart a trade deal with China in what became known as the Sunflower Movement.
Mr. Ma's party faces the prospect of losing the presidency and possibly control of the legislature. The candidate most likely to replace him, Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party, favors a more restrained approach to China.
The online edition of The People's Daily, the mouthpiece of China's ruling Communist Party, carried a commentary on Saturday criticizing naysayers who have called the Singapore meeting an empty ritual.
"Some suspect that the 'Xi-Ma meeting' is empty formality because no agreements will be signed and there'll be no statement about what was discussed," it said. "The 'Xi-Ma meeting' implies not only that mutual political confidence between the two sides of the strait has made a stride upwards, it also shows that cross-strait relations have risen to a new phase."
The meeting was the subject of awkward and sometimes strained protocol. China wanted to avoid any appearance that it was acknowledging Taiwan's sovereignty. And Taiwan wanted to avoid any appearance that it was subordinate to China.
The two men were referred to as the "leader of the mainland side" and the "leader of the Taiwan side." They referred to each other as "xiansheng" in Chinese, or "mister," to avoid the implications that would come with the title of president.
And there were no flags or outward symbols of state. Before the meeting Mr. Ma said in Taipei that he would not wear a pin with Taiwan's flag on Saturday because it would be awkward. On Saturday, state television stations in China cut away during Mr. Ma's opening remarks, only broadcasting portions later. Mr. Ma's news conference was not carried on the Chinese-language news channels of the state broadcaster CCTV.
While efforts that are seen as lessening tensions across the Taiwan Strait are generally supported in Taiwan, there were also concerns that the meeting might result in a change in the terms of the delicate relationship between the sides.
"They aren't meeting as presidents, they are meeting as leaders of the two sides," said Lin Fei-fan, one of the leaders of the Sunflower Movement. "This pattern for talks could affect our ability to interact with other countries in the future."
The encounter could also pose a risk for Mr. Xi that despite all the careful protocol, meeting Mr. Ma in Singapore could elevate the status of Taiwan and undo China's decades of efforts to isolate the island internationally.
But Mr. Xi also wants to show Taiwan the potential benefits of cooperating with the mainland. "I think Xi Jinping's goal may be to sort of weaken the faction in Taiwanese public opinion that says, 'Let's poke a needle in the eye of Beijing,' " said Andrew J. Nathan, a professor of political science at Columbia University who focuses on China.
The meeting shows "Xi is willing to be a bit more innovative and creative and find accommodation of some kind," said Orville Schell, the director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York.
"It also strikes me as quite opportunistic," he added, noting that Mr. Ma is soon to leave office, and his replacement is likely to be less accommodating.
Saturday's meeting, Mr. Schell noted, advances the long and tangled history between the sides, but it is far from resolved.
"These two pieces of real estate have been in this state of suspended animation, each at different times claiming to own the other," he said. "They are still doing this strange dance and are still trying to find a more comfortable angle of repose."
[Source: By Austin Ramzy, The New York Times, Singapore, 07Nov15]
East China Sea Conflict
|This document has been published on 16Nov15 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.|