Xi Jinping and Ma Ying-jeou summit

Historic meet between Xi Jinping and Ma Ying-jeou on Saturday serves as blueprint for China and Taiwan's future ties

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 November, 2015, 12:25am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 November, 2015, 11:31am

The way forward in cross-strait relations is through diplomacy and dialogue. The historic meeting in Singapore on Saturday between President Xi Jinping and Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou showcases both. The diplomats have done their bit in figuring out a protocol that made it possible, setting the scene for dialogue.

At this stage, symbolism may appear to trump substance, with Ma leaving office soon because of a constitutional term limit and the Kuomintang, which favours closer ties with the mainland, facing likely defeat in the presidential election in January. But the significance of the first such meeting in 70 years, since Mao Zedong and the KMT's Chiang Kai-shek met in the wartime capital of Chongqing , should not be underestimated.

That meeting did not end well, leading to three years of civil war and the separation of Taiwan and the mainland. Saturday's meeting should help promote peace on both sides. It opens a channel for direct communication in future if the KMT loses power to the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.

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Negotiations to set it up began last year. Xi's long-planned visit to Singapore this weekend presented a symbolic opportunity, if protocol issues could be resolved.

The city-state, after all, hosted talks where the thawing of cross-strait ties began in 1992, with recognition that there is only one China, subject to interpretation. The two will meet as leaders across the Taiwan Strait, rather than as party leaders, since Ma is no longer KMT chairman, and dispense with formal titles.

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For Ma, the meeting is a chance to consolidate the main legacy of an otherwise lacklustre presidency - the warming of cross-strait ties and the stability of the status quo, both of which have helped Taiwan. For Xi, it reflects a taste for bold foreign policy and diplomacy in managing the rise of China, as evidenced recently by the nurturing of stronger links with Britain and Europe as a counterweight to the US. In competing regionally with the US, the meeting with Ma is an example of diplomatic chess Xi is playing with increasing skill.

For Chinese everywhere it will bring happiness, after decades of hostilities across the Taiwan Strait, and the hope that the talks will open a new chapter in the history of China and the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.

This historic occasion should serve as a precedent, with goodwill on both sides, for maintaining top-level contacts if the DPP's Tsai Ing-wen becomes the next president of Taiwan.