Taiwan and China have held historic talks after a gap of 66 years, between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Taiwanese counterpart Ma Ying-jeou in Singapore.
The meeting took place in neutral territory on the sidelines of a state visit by Mr Xi to Singapore.
They identified a broad agenda of engagement, including talks to narrow down differences over a “one-China” formulation, easing security tensions and collaboration in Beijing-led connectivity projects.
On sensitive issues, the two sides should confront reality and deal with any problems using wisdom, patience, sincerity and pragmatism.
A lengthy handshake that lasted 80 seconds, in full media glare, before they went into talks, underscored the special importance that the two leaders attached to the occasion.
Analysts point out that both leaders have a tough task ahead of bridging their gap on their perception of a “one-China” concept that the two neighbours had flagged in 1992 when they had agreed that that there was only one China, but acknowledged their differences on its interpretation.
In his remarks, President Ma noted that China and Taiwan needed to make progress in consolidating the consensus reached in 1992.
The talks also covered major issues, including concerns about deployment of Chinese missiles facing Taiwan, and the possible benefits that Taiwan could avail from the mainland’s Belt and Road connectivity initiative.
Relations between China and Taiwan have improved under Mr Ma since he took office in 2008, with better economic ties, improving tourism links, and a trade pact signed. The two sides split in 1949 when the Kuomintang lost to the Chinese Communist Party in the civil war and set up a new government in Taiwan.
Both leaders agreed in principle to establish a hotline as a major confidence building measure. Zhang Zhijun, director of the mainland China’s Taiwan affairs department said that President was of the view that a hotline can help with more timely communications and help avoid any misunderstandings, while also helping to deal with emergencies. Authorities on both sides in charge of cross-straits affairs should set up a hotline first.
On the Belt and Road — China’s project to integrate economies of Eurasia — Mr. Zhang observed that “the President said that the people of Taiwan are welcome to actively participate in [this project], and that they are also welcome to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.”
Mr. Ma proposed that in the future both sides must find ways to reduce the state of hostility and peacefully tackle disputes, enhance cross-strait communications, and step up economic cooperation with each other.
Both sides have said that no agreements would be signed at the meeting, but that they would discuss ways to cement peace.
Despite the rift, China is Taiwan’s biggest trade partner, hundreds of flights go between the two nations each week and Chinese banks now operate on the island, while some Taiwanese companies have factories in China.
1949: Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang (KMT) nationalists form their own government in Taiwan after Mao Zedong’s communists take power in Beijing
1971: Taiwan loses its seat at the UN to China
1979: The US establishes diplomatic relations with China while at the same time committing itself to defending Taiwan
1993: First direct talks between the two sides take place in Singapore
2005: Beijing brings in a law that makes secession by Taiwan illegal, at the risk of military action
2008: High-level talks between the two sides resume after Ma Ying-jeou is elected president