The leaders of China and Taiwan have held historic talks in Singapore – their first in more than 60 years,BBC reports. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou shook hands at the start of the talks, which were seen as largely symbolic.
China views Taiwan as a breakaway province which will one day be reunited with the mainland. But many Taiwanese see it as independent and are concerned at China’s growing influence.
“Both sides should respect each other’s values and way of life,” Mr Ma said as the talks began at a luxury hotel. Mr Xi told the Taiwanese leader: “We are one family.” The meeting took place in neutral territory on the sidelines of a state visit by Mr Xi to Singapore.
Relations between China and Taiwan have improved under Mr Ma since he took office in 2008, with better economic ties, improving tourism links, and a trade pact signed. The two sides split in 1949 when the Kuomintang lost to the Chinese Communist Party in the civil war and set up a new government in Taiwan.
What wasn’t discussed
No major agreements or deals were expected to be reached. Mr Ma said in advance that the issue of the South China Sea disputes, which has dominated recent concerns in the region, would not be brought up.
Mr Xi raised the issue in a speech at the National University of Singapore before the meeting, saying China has always hoped to settle the disputes peacefully.
What was discussed
Mr Ma proposed reducing hostility across the Taiwan Strait, expanding exchanges and establishing a cross-strait hotline, according to Taiwan’s central news agency.
The agency reported this as part of consolidating the “1992 consensus” – the agreement under which both sides recognise the principle of “one China” but define it in their own ways. In a sign of the political sensitivities, the leaders were expected to address each other as Mr Xi and Mr Ma, rather than president.
President Ma’s Kuomintang (KMT) Party is seen as pro-Beijing, which has led to warmer ties between the sides. However, correspondents say growing fears over China’s influence have led to widespread dissatisfaction in Taiwan.
The KMT suffered a crushing defeat in local elections last year, a result that was widely seen as a rejection of Mr Ma’s push for closer ties with China. In the Taiwanese capital there were protests before the talks and one group tried to enter the parliament building.
AFP said there were arrests at Taipei’s Songshan airport as Mr Ma left early on Saturday, where opponents of closer ties between Taiwan and China tried to set fire to images of the two leaders.
A small group supporting Mr Ma also turned up at the airport. State media in China have heralded the meeting, though Taiwan has had a more divided reaction where opposition parties and activists have called for Mr Ma to back out.
“The Xi-Ma meeting has excited Chinese people worldwide… Applause will be heard globally for the victory of peace and rationality,” an editorial carried in the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily. It also took issue with those opposed to the meeting in Taiwan, saying critics “are displaying jiggery-pokery from a small circle. Such extremism is bound to be stigmatised”.