BEIJING/ TAIPEI (REUTERS)- A meeting planned on Saturday (Nov 7) between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou is a milestone in relations that will help safeguard regional peace, a senior Chinese official said on Wednesday (Nov 4).
The two leaders will “exchange views on promoting the peaceful development of cross-Taiwan Strait relations”, Mr Zhang Zhijun, head of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said in a statement reported by the official Xinhua news agency.
“I believe the meeting will gain wide support from all walks of life across the Strait and the international community.
“This is a pragmatic arrangement made in accordance with the one-China principle under the situation where the political dispute across the Taiwan Strait has yet to be resolved,” Mr Zhang added.
He also said the two presidents will address each other as "mister" and will have dinner after their meeting in Singapore.
It will be the first such meeting between China and Taiwan since the Chinese civil war ended in 1949.
Mr Ma's spokesman Charles Chen told Taiwanese media that no agreement would be signed and no joint statement would be made.
Mr Chen said Mr Ma will leave for Singapore on Saturday where he will meet Mr Xi. The Chinese leader is visiting Singapore on Friday and Saturday as part of an exchange of presidential visits to mark 25 years of diplomatic relations between China and Singapore.
TAIWAN OPPOSITION UPSET
Taiwan’s main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which traditionally favours independence, slammed what it said was a lack of transparency about the meeting.
Key parliamentary leaders had not been informed, DPP secretary-general Joseph Wu told Reuters by telephone. “This kind of situation needs to be explained fully to the people and calm down the anxiety of the people in Taiwan that President Ma has not overpromised China anything that would hamper Taiwan’s current status and its long term interests,” Mr Wu said.
The DPP’s candidate Tsai Ing-wen is the favourite to win the poll in January. Ms Tsai has said she will “maintain the status quo” but has not elaborated on how she plans to do so.
Experts said China could be trying to influence the election, adding that Mr Ma was taking a risk in meeting Mr Xi with the poll only 10 weeks away. The move could also backfire on Mr Xi if there was widespread opposition in Taiwan to the meeting, they said.
China could be trying to show that ties will improve if Taiwan continues to be ruled by the pro-China Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT), said Aaron Friedberg, professor at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University.
“It’s conceivable that they had something like that in mind. They may be rewarding President Ma for policies that he has pursued, that in general have tended to favour closer relations between Taiwan and the mainland,” Prof Friedberg said.
Dr Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said there had been a shift in public opinion in Taiwan towards more skepticism about the relationship with China. “It’s hard to see how this (meeting) is really going to help his party remain in power,” she said.
PROTESTERS AT PARLIAMENT
Small groups of protesters gathered outside Taiwan’s parliament on Wednesday, where the cabinet would meet with leaders of parliament and the island’s political parties to discuss the trip.
Mr Ma will hold a news briefing on Thursday, the presidential office said.
Previous Chinese attempts to influence Taiwan’s elections have backfired.
In 1996, then-Chinese President Jiang Zemin ordered live fire missile tests and war games in the seas around Taiwan to try and intimidate voters not to back Mr Lee Teng-hui, who China believed was moving the island closer to formal independence.
The crisis brought the two sides to the verge of conflict and prompted the United States to sail a carrier task force through the Taiwan Strait in a warning to Beijing. Mr Lee later won the election by a landslide.