Behind the ice-breaker meeting


Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou shook hands ahead of an historic summit in Singapore last weekend. It is the first time since the Chinese Civil War ended and the nations split in 1949 that leaders from both sides have met.

Xi said the meeting “has opened a historic chapter in the cross-Strait relations, and history will remember today.” He also emphasized, “We (China and Taiwan) are one family.”

Relations between China and Taiwan have improved under Ma since he took office in 2008, with better economic ties, improving tourism links and a trade pack signed.

It is unfathomable why the meeting has taken place at this moment. From Ma’s side, there is a presidential election in Taiwan in January. Ma might take this meeting as an opportunity to give a boost to his party’s candidate, who is trailing in the polls. Also Ma built his presidency on his closer connection to China, so it is a good chance for him to meet Xi.

On Xi’s side, first, Xi wants to exert more of his political control over Taiwan. If he showed his favor in a certain party, in this case, the Nationalists, it might influence many Taiwanese voters’ decisions. If a Nationalists is elected as the upcoming president in Taiwan, it will maintain the policy of being close to China, which will be the ideal outcome for China.

We cannot foresee whether Xi’s meeting with Ma will boost the Nationalists or backfire. During the meeting, many Taiwanese protesters threw stones at the Taiwanese Parliament to demonstrate their anger on Ma’s intention of building a closer connection with China.

Interestingly enough, in Ma’s welcome address, he expressed his sincere hope for continually building peaceful and friendly relation between the strait.  Neither side put fingers on serious political conflicts and territory disputes. They both referred the other side as “sir” rather than his political titles. It is the first time ever in Chinese political reporting that no political titles were involved.