Epic change & upheaval - Looking back: Events that shaped the year

4. 81-sec handshake with long-term significance

Singapore hosted the historic meeting between Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou (left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Nov 7.
Singapore hosted the historic meeting between Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou (left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Nov 7.ST FILE PHOTO

2015 was a year of tragedies, disasters and terror. Some, like the quake in Nepal, were over almost instantly while others, like the European migrant crisis and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, were dramas that unfolded daily. But there were also uplifting moments, such as the Myanmar general election and the Paris climate deal.

It was an 81-second handshake but the impact of the historic powwow on Nov 7 in Singapore between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou could be far-reaching.

Both became the first presidents across the Taiwan Strait to meet since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 that saw the Kuomintang (KMT) losing to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and fleeing to Taiwan.

The two leaders shook hands, posed for photos, and held an hour-long meeting discussing issues such as China's missiles facing Taiwan and the island's desire for bigger international involvement.

Although the meeting was mostly symbolic, analysts believe it could have some impact on Taiwan's presidential election next month by narrowing the gap between the trailing KMT and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Others believe the meeting would pave the way for more functional exchanges between the ministries of both sides.

More crucially, analysts think the CCP and the KMT want to prevent warming cross-strait ties from being derailed under the pro-independence DPP by emphasising the 1992 consensus of "one China, different interpretations".

The meeting could pave the way for more functional exchanges between ministries and government outfits of both sides.

There are also potential regional ramifications: Japan fears a closer cross-strait front on the disputed East China isles known as Diaoyudao to Beijing, Senkaku to Tokyo and Diaoyutai to Taipei.

The United States also is concerned that a warmer cross-strait relationship could lead to closer cooperation in the South China Sea and aid China's territorial claims there.

To Singapore, the event again bears further testament to its usefulness as a neutral venue for cross-strait relations, having also hosted a historic meeting between both sides in 1993.

Kor Kian Beng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 20, 2015, with the headline '4. 81-sec handshake with long-term significance'. Print Edition | Subscribe