S'pore a venue both sides could agree on

Mr Zhang Zhijun (right), director of China's Taiwan Affairs Office, shakes hands with Mr Andrew Hsia, chairman of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, on Oct 14, 2015.
Mr Zhang Zhijun (right), director of China's Taiwan Affairs Office, shakes hands with Mr Andrew Hsia, chairman of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, on Oct 14, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

The Xi-Ma summit could have been held in Manila instead of Singapore, if not for the objection of Beijing.

Mr Andrew Hsia, who heads Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), revealed that the subject of the summit was raised by his Chinese counterpart, Mr Zhang Zhijun of China's Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), when they met last month.

Mr Hsia then suggested to Mr Zhang that the meeting be held during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Manila on Nov 18-19, reported Taiwan's Central News Agency. It added that this exchange took place while the two men were on a night tour of the Pearl River in Guangzhou city.

Mr Zhang rejected the suggestion, saying it was not suitable.

China had in September last year rejected Taiwan's proposal to hold such a summit on the sidelines of the Apec leaders' meeting in Beijing in November, said a source.

Taipei traditionally sends a retired top government official to the Apec meeting as China objects to a sitting Taiwan president attending.

So had Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou met Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines in Beijing, it would have been taken to mean that China agreed to allow a sitting Taiwan president to attend Apec meetings. It was a precedent Beijing probably did not want to start, hence the rejection.

However, Manila as a venue was likely also not acceptable to Beijing because of the two countries' chilly ties over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

"I thought of the Koo-Wang talks that were held in Singapore and therefore suggested Singapore," said Mr Hsia, referring to the first direct cross-strait talks in 1993 between Mr Koo Chen-fu and Mr Wang Daohan, the respective heads of the MAC and TAO. Mr Zhang's reply was: "We can consider this."

Goh Sui Noi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 06, 2015, with the headline 'S'pore a venue both sides could agree on'. Print Edition | Subscribe