History was made on Saturday when the presidents of China and Taiwan for the first time ever. Ma Ying-jeou and Xi Jinping shook hands, had a private talk, then had dinner in Singapore in a first for the heads of the two countries. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the meeting provided no outcome other to reaffirm the prevailing state of affairs – China claims Taiwan is part of it, and peace and cooperation will only happen if Taiwan accepts that.
This is what Xi had to tell Ma: Nothing can separate us [Taiwan and China]. We [China and Taiwan] are one family, we must work to rejuvenate the Chinese nation.
While the Chinese side agreed on a protocol where both presidents greeted each other as “mister” and no national flags were displayed, there was no conciliatory gesture. Xi basically reminded Ma that China still claims Taiwan and there is no room for Taiwan to be an independent body in the international arena. Ma put forward a five-point proposal, one of which was to revitalize the Chinese nation. If there was any doubt about China’s stance, the Chinese state media cleared it up in unambiguous terms.
The good thing is the general Taiwan public were not taken in by this charade and will not have their views shaken by Xi. Taiwanese online media outlet Ketagalan had a few good editorials on the meeting, specifically that the meeting represents a fading sense of reality for China and the pro-China elements in Taiwan. Xi Jinping can go on and on however much he likes about Taiwan being in the same family as (belongs to) China, but Taiwanese for the most part have moved on from that and are increasingly willing to assert their own identity.
After the two leaders met, Ma held a press conference with the media. China blocked this on their broadcast. Meanwhile, Xi didn’t even bother, delegating an official to address the press conference by reading from a lengthy speech.
There is still time to go before Taiwan’s presidential election take place in January, and Xi is set to stay in office until 2022. But it would be interesting if, as the Ketagalan article suggests, rather than mark the existing state of affairs, this meeting heralds a new era – that of Taiwan being confident of its own identity and going on its own path.