In a landmark moment, the presidents of China and Taiwan held an 80-second handshake ahead of a historic meeting in Singapore Saturday. It marked the first time that the two sides of the Chinese Civil War have come together since the Communists won the war in 1949, forcing the losing Nationalists to begin running their government from Taipei.
“History has left us with many problems which we need to deal with practically,” Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou said following the hour-long meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The leaders both smiled broadly as they headed into their first direct talks since the end of the Chinese Civil War. Chinese President Xi Jinping said in his opening remarks that the two sides are “one family” that can’t be pulled apart. President Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan, a de facto state that Beijing considers a renegade province, said that each side should respect the other’s values and way of life.
Among outcomes of the meeting: China said it would welcome Taiwan joining its Asian Infrastructure Bank “with the appropriate title,” as Beijing does not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state. Ma told reporters Xi Jinping said he was willing to deal immediately with the idea of a cross-strait hotline, but that on problems Taiwan faces such as joining international organizations like the World Health Organization, Xi said those issues would be dealt with “individually and in the future.”
All of this plays against the backdrop of domestic politics in Taiwan, where a presidential election is about two months away. Ma is a lame duck president with popularity ratings in the teens, and it’s unclear how cross-strait ties will go if and/or when another party — which has favored Taiwanese independence in the past — takes the presidential office in January.
“Let’s plan and work together for the rebirth of the Chinese nation on both sides,” said Zhang Zhijun, head of the mainland’s Taiwan Affairs Office, in statement after the meeting. “We’re very willing to keep talking and communicating.”
Following the meeting, the leaders are sharing a banquet dinner and splitting the cost.
These landmark talks are the culmination of years of rapprochement under the leadership of Ma Ying-jeou and his Nationalist Kuomintang party. Both he and his party are losing popularity in Taiwan, where anti-Chinese sentiments have been growing. Friday night, the eve of the landmark meeting, a group of Taiwanese youth tried to break into the Legislative Yuan in Taipei to show their disapproval of the talks.