Oppose Taiwan independence, China's Xi says at historic meeting with Taiwan's Ma

China President Xi Jinping (right) shakes the hands of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou on Nov 7, 2015.
China President Xi Jinping (right) shakes the hands of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou on Nov 7, 2015.ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - China and Taiwan must not let proponents of Taiwan's independence split them, Chinese President Xi Jinping told Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou on Saturday (Nov 7) at the first meeting between leaders of the two sides since China's civil war ended in 1949.

Mr Ma, president of self-ruled, democratic Taiwan where anti-Beijing sentiment has been rising ahead of elections, called for mutual respect for each other's systems and said Taiwan wanted China to use peaceful means to resolve issues.

The talks, at the Shangri-La Hotel here, lasted less than an hour but were heavy with symbolism. The two leaders shook hands and smiled in front of a mass of journalists when they met, with Mr Xi wearing a red tie, the colour of the Communist Party, and Mr Ma a blue one, the colour of his Kuomintang (KMT) party.

Moving into a meeting room, Mr Xi, speaking first and sitting opposite Mr Ma, said Chinese people on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait had the ability and wisdom to solve their own problems.

"No force can pull us apart because we are brothers who are still connected by our flesh even if our bones are broken, we are a family in which blood is thicker than water," he said.

In response, Mr Ma said he was determined to promote peace across the Taiwan Strait and that relations should be based on sincerity, wisdom and patience.

The Taiwanese leader also asked Mr Xi indirectly to respect Taiwan's democracy. "Both sides should respect each other's values and way of life to ensure mutual benefit and a win-win situation across the straits," he said.

The Kuomintang, retreated to Taiwan after losing the civil war to the Communists, who are still in charge in Beijing. The mainland has never renounced the use of force to bring what it considers a breakaway province under its control.

Speaking to reporters after the talks, Mr Ma said he hoped Mr Xi could pay attention to China's missile deployment - Taiwan has long fretted about batteries pointed its way - to which Mr Xi replied that was not an issue about Taiwan, he said.

"I at least raised the issue, and told him that the Taiwanese people have questions and concerns about it, and hope he will treat it with importance," Mr Ma said.

Mr Zhang Zhijun, the head of China's Taiwan Affairs Office, said Mr Xi told the Taiwanese leader that the biggest threat to the peaceful development of relations was pro-independence forces.

"The compatriots on both sides should unite and firmly oppose it," said Mr Zhang, who spoke to the media after the Xi-Ma meeting.

The meeting comes ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections on Taiwan which the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is favoured to win, something Beijing is desperate to avoid.

While bilateral trade, investment and tourism have blossomed - particularly since Mr Ma and his KMT took power in 2008 - there is deep suspicion on both sides and no progress has been made on any sort of political settlement.

No agreements had been expected in what was seen as a highly symbolic get-together in Singapore.

Protocol problems loomed large for the political rivals and the two addressed each other as "mister" to avoid using the word "president", as neither officially recognises the other as head of state.

Further underscoring China's sensitivities, state television only showed Mr Xi's comments live, cutting away when Mr Ma began to speak, prompting a flurry of complaints on Chinese social media about censorship.

It later showed a recording of Mr Ma's opening remarks.

Both leaders had dinner togetherafter the summit.

Mr Ma presented Mr Xi bottles of spirits made on two groups of islands just off the mainland that have been occupied by Taiwan forces since the end of the civil war.

He alsp gave Mr Xi a ceramic sculpture of a Taiwan blue magpie perched on a leafy green branch as a gift for their first meeting, a bird unique to the island, Taiwan's presidential office said.