The announcement that President Xi Jinping will meet Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou in Singapore on November 7 hit the headlines across the world. Here are five key implications of the proposed meeting:
First, this is going to be an epoch-making event in cross-Strait relations. It is the first meeting between leaders from the two sides since 1949 when Chiang Kai-shek-led Kuomintang lost the civil war and fled to Taiwan.
In April 1993, Wang Daohan, head of the mainland's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS), and Koo Chen-fu, chairman of the Taiwan-based Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), met in Singapore, paving the way for improvement of cross-Strait ties.
Despite an increase in lower-level exchanges since 1993, the gap in mutual trust remained huge and a top-level meeting was out of reach.
The Saturday’s summit, which will lift the cross-Strait relations to a new height, is a silver lining in the clouds of the Taiwan issue that has vexed the people across the Strait for half a century.
On the Taiwan side, Ma reached his personal capstone in improving the cross-Strait relations, said Douglas Paal, former director of the American Institute in Taiwan. On the mainland side, since Xi put forward the “China Dream”, “One Belt and One Road” and AIIB initiatives, he has lifted China’s international status to a new height with visits to the US and UK. The Xi-Ma summit also indicates Xi’s holistic approach and historical courage to the cross-Strait relations.
Second, the meeting itself is a big achievement. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the opposition party, warned Ma not to sign any agreements or issue joint statements during the meeting. Indeed, the two sides will neither sign deals nor joint statements, according to Ma’s spokesman Charles Chen. Singapore is where Wang and Koo met in 1993 and the place where the 1992 Consensus, which endorses the one-China principle, was reached. The coming summit is a respect to history and heralds a “New Normal” in cross-Strait relations.
Third, the importance of “title” has been put aside. The two leaders will address each other by the title of “Mr”, which is based on the one-China principle. With sincerity and persistence, none of the cross-Strait issues is insurmountable.
Fourth, the US plays an important role in the cross-Strait relations. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the US would welcome steps taken on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to try to reduce tensions and improve relations, but added, "We'll have to see what actually comes out of the meeting." There are clearly concerns behind the official rhetoric. Washington is worried about losing the political chip of Taiwan after it warms to China.
The tension in the South China Sea has been heightened recently when a US warship entered within 12 nautical miles of China’s Zhubi reefs. Although, Xi and Ma may not reach any consensus on the South China Sea, the US will not benefit from our rifts if the two sides join hands. When shepherds quarrel, the wolf wins the game.
Last, the historic summit coincides with the Taiwan election where the DPP leads the polls. Tsai Ing-wen, chairwoman of the DPP, questioned the motive of Ma’s meeting with Xi, citing it a political operation to affect the election.
The Xi-Ma meeting was not decided on a whim. Ma has reiterated in recent years that he didn’t rule out a meeting with the Chinese President at “a proper time and on proper occasion.” It took three years to finalize the landmark meeting. Whether it will affect the elections remains a question.
Even if Ma’s party steps down, the meeting will be a cross-Strait milestone that transcends time and politics, just like the 1993 Wang-Koo meeting. Taiwan people will be the beneficiary of the improving cross-Strait relations. Only in the future can we understand the significance of this historic event.
(The article is translated by Wu Jie.)