China, Tai­wan lead­ers join hands at his­toric sum­mit

‘We are broth­ers con­nected by flesh’

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

SIN­GA­PORE: The pres­i­dents of China and Tai­wan reached across decades of Cold War-era es­trange­ment and ri­valry to ex­change a his­toric hand­shake and warm words in the first sum­mit since the two sides’ trau­matic 1949 split. China’s Xi Jin­ping and Tai­wan’s Ma Ying-jeou shook hands for more than a minute and smiled for a mass of re­porters be­fore their talks in Sin­ga­pore in scenes con­sid­ered un­think­able un­til re­cently.

They later sat down across a ta­ble from each other, with Xi prais­ing the event as open­ing a “his­toric chap­ter in our re­la­tions” and re­peat­ing China’s oft-ex­pressed de­sire for even­tual re­uni­fi­ca­tion. “We are broth­ers con­nected by flesh even if our bones are bro­ken. We are a fam­ily whose blood is thicker than wa­ter,” Xi said. “The de­vel­op­ment of cross-strait re­la­tions over the past 66 years shows that no mat­ter what kind of winds and rains are ex­pe­ri­enced by com­pa­tri­ots on the two sides, no mat­ter how long di­vi­sions last there is no power that can sep­a­rate us.”

De­spite the ap­par­ent warmth, the hour-long meet­ing’s last­ing sig­nif­i­cance re­mains to be seen. No agree­ments were an­nounced be­tween two sides that still refuse to for­mally rec­og­nize each other’s le­git­i­macy. But the en­counter is un­de­ni­ably his­toric: the pre­vi­ous oc­ca­sion was in 1945, when Com­mu­nist rev­o­lu­tion­ary leader Mao Ze­dong met with China’s na­tion­al­ist Pres­i­dent Chi­ang Kai-shek in a failed rec­on­cil­i­a­tion at­tempt. The even­tual Com­mu­nist takeover forced Chi­ang’s armies and about two mil­lion fol­low­ers to flee to Tai­wan, then a back­wa­ter is­land prov­ince, leav­ing a na­tional rup­ture that has pre­oc­cu­pied both sides ever since.

‘Like old friends’

“Even though this is the first meet­ing, we feel like old friends,” Ma told Xi, in the un­ex­pect­edly cor­dial en­counter. “Be­hind us is his­tory stretch­ing for 60 years. Now be­fore our eyes there are fruits of con­cil­i­a­tion in­stead of con­fronta­tion.” Ma later told re­porters he pro­posed the es­tab­lish­ment of a hot­line be­tween to the two sides and that Xi re­sponded pos­i­tively. He also raised is­sues sen­si­tive to Tai­wan’s peo­ple, in­clud­ing the arse­nal of Chi­nese mis­siles aimed at Tai­wan, and China’s pol­icy of marginal­iz­ing the is­land diplo­mat­i­cally. “We hope th­ese things do not con­tinue,” said Ma, who told Xi that both sides should ex­er­cise “mu­tual re­spect.”

Xi did not ad­dress re­porters, leav­ing that to a lower-rank­ing of­fi­cial. Ma has ex­pressed hope the meet­ing could be a step to­ward nor­mal­iz­ing cross-strait re­la­tions, but no fur­ther plans for closer con­tact emerged. An­a­lysts said there is no guar­an­tee any glow will last, es­pe­cially with Ma out of of­fice soon, and his rul­ing party ex­pected to lose in Jan­uary polls to an op­po­si­tion that dis­trusts China.

“This meet­ing will re­main a his­toric mo­ment but every­thing will de­pend on the re­sult of the elec­tions in Tai­wan,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan of Hong Kong Bap­tist Univer­sity. “Xi’s very prore­uni­fi­ca­tion lan­guage... risks alarm­ing more than one per­son on the is­land.” Though po­lit­i­cally di­vided for decades, busi­ness and in­vest­ment ties have flow­ered. Since tak­ing of­fice in 2008, Ma’s Bei­jing-friendly poli­cies have borne new fruit, in­clud­ing a boom in Chi­nese vis­i­tors to the is­land, the open­ing of flight routes, more than 20 trade agree­ments-and yes­ter­day’s sum­mit.

But many in Tai­wan, a ram­bunc­tious democ­racy, are deeply un­easy at draw­ing too close to the Com­mu­nist-ruled main­land or­bit, and re­uni­fi­ca­tion re­mains a dis­tant prospect. “Af­ter watch­ing Ma-Xi meet­ing this af­ter­noon on TV, I be­lieve most Tai­wanese peo­ple, like me, feel very dis­ap­pointed,” the pres­i­den­tial can­di­date of the op­po­si­tion Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Party, Tsai Ing-wen, said in a state­ment. “We re­ally re­gret that the only re­sult from the Ma-Xi meet­ing is an at­tempt to put peo­ple’s choices on cross-strait re­la­tions in a box, us­ing a po­lit­i­cal frame­work on an in­ter­na­tional stage.”

Hun­dreds of op­po­nents of the sum­mit massed out­side Ma’s of­fice in Taipei yes­ter­day, con­demn­ing the meet­ing and Xi’s “fam­ily” com­ments. There were also overnight demon­stra­tions at Tai­wan’s par­lia­ment build­ing, and 27 peo­ple were ar­rested as pro­test­ers scuf­fled with po­lice at the cap­i­tal’s air­port as Ma de­parted.

Mis­ter, Mis­ter

The lin­ger­ing ten­sions were in plain view at the sum­mit, where the lead­ers ad­dressed each other as “mis­ter” rather than “pres­i­dent”-which would have le­git­imized their gov­ern­ments. Bei­jing sees Tai­wan as a way­ward prov­ince and this dis­dain sur­faced in China’s cov­er­age of the event. Af­ter Xi fin­ished ad­dress­ing Ma at the meet­ing’s open­ing, Chi­nese state broad­caster CCTV cut away to a stu­dio dis­cus­sion as video of Ma speak­ing rolled, but with no sound. Op­po­nents at home ac­cuse Ma, who leaves of­fice soon, of us­ing the sum­mit to boost his rul­ing Kuom­intang’s (KMT) flag­ging chances at the polls. Some an­a­lysts feel China also fi­nally granted the meet­ing, long sought by Ma, to help boost the KMT, which Bei­jing fa­vors over the more in­de­pen­dence-minded op­po­si­tion. But they warn the strat­egy could backfire with anx­ious Tai­wanese vot­ers if China is seen med­dling in the elec­tion.— AFP

SIN­GA­PORE: Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping (right) and Tai­wanese Pres­i­dent Ma Ying-jeou shake hands at the Shangri-la Ho­tel yes­ter­day in Sin­ga­pore. The two lead­ers shook hands at the start of a his­toric meet­ing mark­ing the first top level con­tact be­tween the for­merly bit­ter Cold War goes since they split amid civil war 66 years ago. —AP

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