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Taiwan and China to hold historic summit

Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou will meet his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Singapore on Saturday. It will be the first cross-strait meeting between leaders of the two sides since Taiwan broke away from the mainland China in 1949 and established as a new capital after the Communist Party won the bitter civil war against the Kuomintang. The two leaders will discuss the relations across the Taiwan Straits. China claims sovereignty over independent status of Taiwan and views the island as a breakaway province which will one day be united with the mainland. That means Xi cannot refer to Ma as “president”, and address Taiwan as a “province”.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said in a statement,”The mainland’s attitude on a meeting between leaders from both sides of the Taiwan Strait is positive and consistent. If there is news on this, we will issue it in a timely manner. ”

The purpose of the meeting is to “consolidate cross-strait peace and maintain the status quo” and Ma would not sign any agreements, nor issue any joint statements with China, Ma’s office added.

The last meeting between leaders of both the rival nations – communist leader Mao Zedong and Taiwan’s Nationalist founder Chiang Kai-shek – held in Sept. 1945 before the civil war resumed following the defeat of Japanese forces. Chiang was very optimistic about the meeting at that time, hoping peace and unity within China could be achieved at last and the country could be set firmly on the path of progress. It was after two telegrams from Chiang to Mao asking for a meeting, the communist leader finally agreed to meet on the third invitation.

A meeting between the leaders of China and Taiwan has long been on the table, but has never been materialized. Last year there were signs that Ma and Xi would meet during an APEC Summit held in Beijing, but Taiwan ended up sending its vice president instead.

The emergency meeting in Singapore comes at a politically sensitive time, with elections for a new president and legislature being held on Jan. 16. Ma’s pro-China Nationalist Party, known as the Kuomintang, is trailing in opinion polls behind the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which traditionally favors independence and is loathed by the Chinese Communist Party. The DPP wants to enhance Taiwan’s position as a de facto sovereign state and leans towards separating Taiwan from China as much as possible.

Ma, head of the Kuomintang party, has been a key driver in forging closer ties since he came to power in 2008. He has signed landmark business and tourism deals, though there has been no significant progress in resolving their political differences. This meeting is just another sign of how concerned China is that the significantly improved ties of recent years could be jeopardized if the pro-independence opposition party’s candidate becomes president.

Ahead of the meeting, massive protest broke out in Taiwan, with students taking over the state’s legislative building, over a controversial proposed trade deal with China in 2014. On Wednesday, opponents of the meeting gathered outside Taiwan’s parliament wielding placards that read: “Don’t come back if you go” and “Stop the China-Taiwan relationship.” The issue of closer ties with China remains divisive. The protests were being led by legislative candidate Huang Kuo-chang, a leader of the Sunflower Movement, which opposed the trade deal with China.

The presidential summit will also be closely watched by the United States, which established diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1979 but has been obliged by U.S. law since then to help Taiwan defend itself. However, Washington has long promoted diplomatic, cultural and defense ties with Taiwan and has said any resolution of differences between Taipei and Beijing must be solved peacefully.

“We would certainly welcome steps that are taken on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to try to reduce tensions and improve cross-strait relations,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. “We’ll have to see what actually comes out of the meeting.”

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