Epic hand­shake high­lights China-Tai­wan Sum­mit

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

TAIPEI: When pres­i­dents Ma Ying-jeou and Xi Jin­ping shake hands yes­ter­day it will be a ges­ture of sol­i­dar­ity once un­think­able for the two sides, locked in hos­til­ity for decades over their very iden­tity and right to ex­ist. The schism has been un­bridge­able since Tai­wan split from the main­land af­ter a civil war in 1949, which saw Na­tion­al­ist leader Chi­ang Kai-shek flee to the is­land af­ter de­feat by Mao Ze­dong’s Com­mu­nist forces. It set the stage for a tech­ni­cal state of war as Tai­wan evolved into a self-rul­ing democ­racy, while China still sees it as part of its ter­ri­tory await­ing re­uni­fi­ca­tion, by force if nec­es­sary. While it is un­clear what will come out of the meet­ing, it is sym­bolic of a dra­matic rap­proche­ment un­der Ma that has paved the way for the two lead­ers to be in the same room to­gether-a seis­mic shift in re­la­tions.

Fol­low­ing is a brief his­tory of the jour­ney to the Ma-Xi sum­mit. Tai­wan, for­merly known as For­mosa, is an is­land off the south­east coast of China be­tween the East and South China Seas. Chi­nese im­mi­gra­tion be­gan in the 17th cen­tury and the is­land came un­der main­land con­trol af­ter a pe­riod of Dutch rule from 1620-62. Tai­wan was also oc­cu­pied by Ja­pan from 1895-1945. In 1949, about two mil­lion sup­port­ers of the KMT led by Chi­ang Kai-shek fled to Tai­wan to es­tab­lish a sep­a­rate gov­ern­ment af­ter los­ing a civil war to Mao Ze­dong’s com­mu­nists.

Bei­jing and Taipei were frozen in en­mity as each in­sisted on recog­ni­tion as the only rep­re­sen­ta­tive of China. As Chi­nese clout grew, more coun­tries be­gan to rec­og­nize Bei­jing as China’s seat of power-Tai­wan lost its United Na­tions seat to China in 1971 and is now only for­mally rec­og­nized by 22 states. Af­ter Chi­ang died in 1975 his son Chi­ang Ching-kuo took the reins, lift­ing mar­tial law in 1987. Chi­ang’s deputy Lee Tenghui suc­ceeded him in 1988 and the first signs of a pos­si­ble thaw with China be­gan to show. In 1991, Lee de­clared the end of 43 years of emer­gency rule, uni­lat­er­ally end­ing a state of war with China.

Two years later, the first di­rect talks be­tween the two sides were held in Sin­ga­pore be­tween quasi-of­fi­cial en­voys. But re­la­tions soured once more in 1995 when Lee vis­ited the US, prompt­ing Bei­jing to sus­pend the high­level talks in protest. Lee stressed the is­land’s state­hood, which riled China. In 1996 the United States sent in the Sev­enth Fleet af­ter Bei­jing fired test mis­siles into the Tai­wan Strait in a bid to stop vot­ers elect­ing Lee in the is­land’s first ever demo­cratic elec­tions-he won by a land­slide. Wash­ing­ton is Tai­wan’s key ally and the is­land’s lead­ing arms sup­plier, de­spite switch­ing diplo­matic recog­ni­tion from Taipei to Bei­jing in 1979.

Closer ties

Ties with China were fur­ther strained in 2000, when Chen Shui-bian of the pro-in­de­pen­dence Demo­cratic Pro­gres­sive Party (DPP) was elected pres­i­dent in Tai­wan, end­ing the KMT’s 51-year grip on power. But de­spite po­lit­i­cal tur­bu­lence, the two be­came eco­nom­i­cally closer with im­proved trade links. A cor­rup­tion scan­dal played a ma­jor role in Chen’s de­feat in 2008, paving the way for Ma, who promised pros­per­ity through closer ties. Re­la­tions have im­proved dra­mat­i­cally since Ma took of­fice, as the two sides held di­rect talks in Bei­jing, which led to reg­u­lar di­rect flights and a tourism boom. The Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion Frame­work Agree­ment was signed in 2010 to re­duce com­mer­cial bar­ri­ers and in Fe­bru­ary last year the first gov­ern­ment-to-gov­ern­ment talks took place in Nan­jing.

How­ever, pub­lic sen­ti­ment in Tai­wan has turned against the KMT with con­cerns over Chi­nese in­flu­ence a ma­jor fac­tor. In spring 2014, 200 stu­dents oc­cu­pied par­lia­ment for more than three weeks to demon­strate against a con­tro­ver­sial trade pact in what be­came known as the Sun­flower Move­ment. The KMT suf­fered its worst-ever lo­cal elec­tion de­feat in Novem­ber last year and the DPP looks set to be voted in at pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in Jan­uary. Fri­day’s sum­mit is seen as a move to em­pha­size how far re­la­tions have come un­der Ma and pro­mote the “one China” prin­ci­ple as Tai­wan looks likely to im­mi­nently vote in a far less Bei­jing-friendly leader.


TAIPEI: Pro­test­ers carry signs de­nounc­ing the meet­ing in Sin­ga­pore of Tai­wan Pres­i­dent Ma Ying-jeou and China coun­ter­part Xi Jin­ping out­side of the Song­shan Air­port in Taipei yes­ter­day.

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