Dinner diplomacy serves up solutions

Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee meets Lien Chan, former chairman of the Kuomintang (KMT) in Beijing on Sept 1, 2015. Photo: Chinanews.com

It is not the first time Chinese politicians from both sides of the Taiwan Straits have chosen to meet in Singapore. That was in April 1993 when the heads of the respective liaison organizations in Beijing and Taipei came together in the Lion City.

On Saturday evening, when Xi Jinping, embarking on his first state visit to Singapore after assuming office, sits down to dinner with Ma Ying-jeou, the climate would have since undergone many changes.

Ma flew in at noon specially for this rendezvous.

Both in Singapore and in China, the meeting took almost everyone by surprise and was a secret until the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs put out this news release:

"Singapore was requested by both sides to help facilitate the meeting ...

"This is a milestone in the history of cross-Straits relations since 1949. As a close and longstanding friend of both the Chinese mainland and Taiwan, Singapore is happy to facilitate and be the venue for their direct dialogue," the statement said.

"Singapore has consistently upheld a one-China policy and supported initiatives that contribute to the peaceful development of cross-Straits relations, including direct exchanges between the two sides such as the historic Wang-Koo talks held in Singapore in 1993."

Why a dinner meeting?

The famous Wang-Koo talks were facilitated by the late Lee Kuan Yew, who believed Singapore could help China connect better with the world. His legacy continues.

Chinese everywhere believe there is no problem that cannot be solved over a good meal.

Reunions take place, differences are settled, friendships reinforced, foes converted, the worst tempers and troubles soothed and smoothed. Once a meal is shared, common history is made.

Also, the food on the table delivers many messages that may not be articulated by the diners, but are nevertheless very significant.

At the first dinner back in 1993, all the dishes had auspicious names. There were also nine courses, a number chosen to represent the longevity of the relationship.

First to appear was a suckling pig and unagi appetizer named "All Men are Brothers", regardless of differences. Next was a lobster Thermidor signifying that the "Sons of the Dragon" shared a common origin.

The harmony of Four Instruments was a play on words and textures, with brightly colored pipa fruit on silky smooth snow white hashima.

Still, Happy Reunion is probably the one dish that will not appear on the Xi-Ma dinner menu. It was a bowl of sharksfin.

Ten Thousand Prosperity Wishes, Three Perfect Elements, Brothers Forever, Happy Dialogues in the Halls, and Tapestry of the Bright Future made up the rest of the dishes and foretold warming family ties.

And today, you can be sure that the chefs in charge of the important dinner were just as carefully planning what to serve, how to serve, and also who had the best calligraphy for all those fancy lyrical names.

After all, this will surely be a meal of historic significance.

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