Going Dutch with China's President - Taiwan President Ma recounts dinner with Xi Jinping

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou wave to journalists before their meeting at the Shangri-La hotel in Singapore on Nov 7, 2015.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou wave to journalists before their meeting at the Shangri-La hotel in Singapore on Nov 7, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI (Reuters) - After waiting for more than six decades, it was a meal that lasted less than two hours.

Seated next to each other at a round table, to avoid having to choose someone to sit in the "host" position at the top of a rectangular table, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou shared a relatively simple dinner in a Singapore hotel after their historic meeting on Saturday (Nov 7).

Over crayfish, fried asparagus and spicy noodles, Mr Xi and Mr Ma talked politics, education and knives made from old Chinese artillery shells, according to an account provided by Mr Ma to reporters on the flight back to Taipei late on Saturday.

"We did not drink that much," Mr Ma said. "He said his capacity for liquor wasn't good and I said mine was not good either."

Mr Xi brought to the meal a famous spirit from Guizhou province, while Mr Ma brought wine and spirits from two groups of islets just off the mainland that Taiwan forces have occupied since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. "We brought up the cooking knives of Kinmen. He also knew the knives are made from old artillery," Ma said, referring to one of the islands which was heavily shelled by the mainland at the height of the Cold War, where knives are crafted out of old shells.

Mr Xi also displayed his knowledge of the sorghum-based spirit Kaoliang that Kinmen is famous for. "When we got to discussing kaoliang he said actually the production of Chinese sorghum in Kinmen is not enough so they have to import some from the mainland. And I said we already know this," Mr Ma said.

Mr Ma did not say how much the dinner cost, but he said they went Dutch, splitting the bill between them. "We brought our own drinks so I don't think we spent too much money."

The account is all the more remarkable because China has yet to provide an in-depth account of what transpired between the two leaders over dinner, though some newspapers have given details of the food and state television said Mr Ma looked"flushed" after he left, as though he'd had a bit too much to drink.

Unlike Mr Ma, Mr Xi did not meet reporters after their meeting. Mr Xi rarely answers questions from the media.

The mainland's Taiwan Affairs Office did not respond to a request for comment.

Mr Ma said he thought Mr Xi was somebody who could make decisions quickly on certain subjects, and that he had used phrases with Mr Xi that are taboo in China, like Taiwan's formal name, the Republic of China.

"I said 'Republic of China' in his presence," Mr Ma said. "He did not react to this."

Beijing recoils at any suggestion self-ruled and proudly democratic Taiwan is anything but a renegade province of China, to be bought under its control by force if necessary.