It’ll be the first meeting between the leaders of the two countries since the Chinese communist revolution of 1949. Xi Jinping, leader of the People’s Republic of China, will hold a summit with Ma Ying-jeou, the leader of Taiwan, on Saturday in Singapore. When the news was released, it immediately triggered a storm of media coverage from both countries. Here’s a quick look at what all the fuss is about:
Why the fuss?
Even though the island of Taiwan is only 110 miles off the southeastern coast of China, leaders from the two countries have managed to avoid eye contact for more than six decades since Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang (KMT) was defeated by Mao Zedong’s Communist troops and fled to the island.
Some say this meeting reflects the open attitude of Ma Ying-jeou and his KMT party, which has been friendlier to Beijing than other Taiwanese political parties in recent years. Ma Ying-jeou is firmly against reunification, but he has strengthened economic ties with China since taking office in 2008, signing a total of 21 cooperative agreements.
What will this summit mean for relations between the two countries?
This meeting is unlikely to mark the beginning of a great friendship between China and Taiwan. In fact, the KMT is expected to lose in the upcoming election next January to its rival the Democratic Progressive Party, and the DPP is much more hostile toward Beijing than the KMT, already taking the opportunity to condemn the Xi-Ma meeting.
Experts say both leaders are doing this to make history, especially Ma Ying-jeou, whose eight-year term is ending next year. His tenure has largely been rated as mediocre. Some analysts say that Ma is also hoping to reshape the dynamics of the upcoming national vote back home.
Chinese president Xi has made it clear that no agreement will be signed, and no announcement will be made. On Saturday in Singapore, the two leaders will have a closed-door meeting, hold a joint press conference, and then attend a dinner together.
According to Chinese state media, the purpose of this meeting is to “exchange views on promoting peaceful development of cross-Strait relations and discuss ways to improve cross-Strait cooperation and people’s welfare.”
The tricky part:
Under normal circumstances, Xi Jinping would be addressed as the president of the People’s Republic of China, and Ma Ying-jeou would be addressed as the president of the Republic of China, which is Taiwan’s official name. One could imagine the awkwardness this would cause during Saturday’s meeting. Luckily this issue has been resolved. Chinese media reports that Xi and Ma will simply call each other “mister.”
In China, referring to Taiwan as a country is taboo, and Taiwan media often uses the “Chinese Communist regime” while referring to China.
What’s the reaction from Taiwan?
Protests have broken out in Taiwan immediately after the announcement. People held up signs with words like “Don’t come back if you go” and “Stop the China-Taiwan relationship.”
This comes as no surprise. Security forces were reportedly reinforced outside the Taiwan parliament building the day before the announcement.
According to poll numbers, less than 10% of Taiwanese support the idea of immediate or eventual reunification, and more than half of them self-identify as Taiwanese, not Chinese. Last year massive protests broke out over a trade deal with China.
Despite the political tension, China is Taiwan’s biggest trade partner. There are thousands of businessmen, students, and tourists flying between China and Taiwan on direct flights each day.
What does the U.S. say about it?
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the United States welcomes any steps taken by both sides to try to reduce tensions.
The U.S. does not want to see China and Taiwan at war with each other, but they also do not want Taiwan cozying up with China.
Washington officially switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taipei in 1979, and acknowledges that Taiwan is a part of China. However, Taiwan is an important ally of the U.S. in the Pacific region, and the U.S. sells advanced weaponry to Taiwan each year despite China’s protest.