China, Taiwan remain co-dependent

The 81-second firm handshake between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou was not a sign of anxiety but a clear signal to the world that China is prepared for reconciliation ("The politics and anxieties behind Xi-Ma summit"; last Thursday).

Granted, many outstanding issues remain. For example, China remains reluctant to discuss territorial disputes in the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea.

Many outspoken pro-independence movements in Taiwan also continue to oppose engagement with China, which they view as a kind of submission.

Regardless, some diplomatic dialogue, restrained and limited though it may be, is better than no dialogue at all.

The fact that the two top leaders have decided to meet face to face after a 66-year impasse is itself an encouraging sign of progress, a far cry from the acrimony of the 1960s and 1970s.

The Xi-Ma meeting also reflected a gradual shift in China's attitude towards cross-strait relations.

Many synergies exist between China and Taiwan.

Since 1949, both sides have experienced their fair share of socio-political struggles, only to emerge all the stronger as two global economic powerhouses in their own right.

Indeed, in many respects, such as high-technology manufacturing and industrial investment, the two sides remain very much co-dependent.

It is no surprise that the air routes between Taipei and the cities of China's eastern seaboard are now among the most heavily travelled in the world.

This is testament not only to intimate business relations, but also familial ties between the Chinese and Taiwanese.

It would, thus, be a boon if diplomatic relations between China and Taiwan progressed to a sufficient extent as to permit both parties to fully capitalise on their cross-strait dynamics.

I am sure that each side has lessons in governance and economic policy that it can share with the other. Increased interaction would further provide the chance for social healing to take place.

As yet, no one is sure what exactly transpired in that closed-door meeting between the two leaders, but the crucial message is clear: In terms of realpolitik, and in the interests of conflict mitigation, China and Taiwan can and should work towards long-overdue closure.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2015, with the headline 'China, Taiwan remain co-dependent'. Print Edition | Subscribe