China, Taiwan in Historic Meeting

China, Taiwan in Historic MeetingChina, Taiwan in Historic Meeting

The leaders of China and Taiwan met Saturday for the first time since the formerly bitter Cold War foes split amid civil war 66 years ago, and though no concrete agreement resulted, both hailed the meeting as a sign of a new stability in relations.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou came together on neutral ground in a hotel in Singapore, smiling broadly as they shook hands for more than one minute in front of cameras, AP reported.

No national flags were present - a necessary work-around to overcome China’s refusal to recognize Taiwan’s sovereignty or its government’s formal legitimacy.    

In brief opening remarks in front of reporters before going into a closed-door meeting, Xi said, “History will record this day.” He alluded to China’s long-cherished goals of unification with Taiwan, saying, “We are one family,” and “No force can pull us apart.”

Ma said, “Both sides should respect each other’s values and way of life,” while adding that relations between the sides were “the most peaceful and stable they have ever been.”

When they split in 1949, both sides aspired to absorb the other, with each claiming the mantle of the only legitimate government of all of China, Taiwan included.

China still demands that Taiwan eventually be unified with the mainland, while many citizens of democratic Taiwan increasingly prefer to simply maintain the separate status the island has carved out over more than six decades.

Critics of Ma in Taiwan are wary that his meeting with Xi and similar contacts will pave the way for Beijing to assert greater control over the island, further deepening its international isolation.

However, Ma said at a post-meeting news conference that he discussed with Xi the Taiwanese people’s desire for greater participation in global society, particularly for nongovernmental organizations.

Ma said Xi told him that China would “appropriately handle” Taiwanese moves toward greater participation on a case-by-case basis.

The meeting was more about the symbolism of coming together than about substance. Both sides had said no agreements would be signed or joint statements issued.

Three decades of hostilities followed the 1949 split, occasionally bursting into warfare in the Taiwan Strait, including over the once heavily militarized Matsu and Kinmen island group, making dialogue all but impossible.

Tensions eased after China shifted to endorsing the option of “peaceful unification” alongside military threats in 1979, although it was not until 1993 that representatives of the two governments met in Singapore to establish the groundwork for future talks.