Taiwan and China have identified a broad agenda of engagement, including talks to narrow down differences over a “one-China” formulation, easing security tensions and collaboration in Beijing-led connectivity projects, following historic talks after a gap of 66 years, between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Taiwanese counterpart Ma Ying-jeou.
As they assembled for talks in Singapore, President Xi called his meeting with President Ma as “historic.” “This is a very special day, and a new chapter in history,” he added.
Mr. Xi pointed out that a seven-year effort by both sides had culminated in Saturday’s meeting. “This is a very special day, and a new chapter in history,” he observed. Mr. Ma reciprocated, with matching enthusiasm, by pointing out Saturday’s meeting was not for his personal benefit but for that of the next generation. History, he added, has left a series of “complex and perplexing issues” that needed to be resolved.
“On sensitive issues, the two sides should confront reality and deal with any problems using wisdom, patience, sincerity and pragmatism,” he observed. A lengthy handshake that lasted 80 seconds, in full media glare, before they went into talks, underscored the special importance that the two leaders attached to the occasion.
Consolidating consensus Analysts point out that both leaders have a tough task ahead of bridging their gap on their perception of a “one-China” concept that the two neighbours had flagged in 1992 when they had agreed that that there was only one China, but acknowledged their differences on its interpretation. In his remarks, President Ma noted that China and Taiwan needed to make progress in consolidating the consensus reached in 1992.
The Taiwanese leader later told the media: “Both sides uphold the ‘one China’ principle, but we each have a different interpretation of it. Our side does not use expressions like ‘two Chinas’ or ‘one China, one Taiwan’ or ‘Taiwan independence’, because our Constitution does not allow that.” The talks also covered major issues, including concerns about deployment of Chinese missiles facing Taiwan, and the possible benefits that Taiwan could avail from the mainland’s Belt and Road connectivity initiative.
Both leaders agreed in principle to establish a hotline as a major confidence building measure. Zhang Zhijun, director of the mainland China’s Taiwan affairs department said that President was of the view that a hotline “can help with more timely communications and help avoid any misunderstandings, while also helping to deal with emergencies. Authorities on both sides in charge of cross-straits affairs should set up [a hotline] first.”
President Ma, in his elaboration said that Mr. Xi “thinks the two sides can ask the chairman of China’s Mainland Affairs Council and the head of the Taiwan Affairs Office to set up a hotline first to exchange opinions on urgent, important issues”. In response to question, he stressed that he had brought the question of Chinese missiles on the agenda. “It is the first time the leaders of the sides have discussed this issue. At least I brought it up, and I told him the Taiwan public has such concerns, and that I hope he can pay close attention to this matter.” Mr. Ma added that President Xi pointed that “the deployments are holistic, that they are not directed at the Taiwanese people”.
On the Belt and Road — China’s project to integrate economies of Eurasia — Mr. Zhang observed that “the President said that the people of Taiwan are welcome to actively participate in [this project], and that they are also welcome to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.”
Mr. Ma proposed that in the future both sides must find ways to reduce the state of hostility and peacefully tackle disputes, enhance cross-strait communications, and step up economic cooperation with each other.
S. China Sea: Xi promises freedom of navigation
China’s President Xi Jinping on Saturday waded into the controversy regarding unimpeded access to the sea lanes of South China Sea, by pointing out that Beijing was committed to ensuring freedom of navigation in these waters.
“Right of passage or flight has never been a problem and will never be a problem, because China needs the freedom of passage in the South China Sea the most,” Mr. Xi said during an hour long address on Saturday at the National University of Singapore.
Without naming the United States, which had last month sent its warship within 12 nautical miles of a reef over which China lays claims, President Xi said that China was seeking a peaceful resolution of disputes with “countries with a direct stake in the issue”. He added that others “from outside the region” were welcome to bear a positive influence on peace and development in Asia. President Xi also pointed out that principle of bilateralism would prevail in settling disputes with China’s neighbours in defining the maritime boundaries of the South China Sea.
President Xi’s agenda during his visit to the city-state was defined by his historic meeting with Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou. A statement by the Foreign Ministry of Singapore said “Singapore was glad to facilitate the historic meeting. ”