By Wang Cong, Meng Na, Guo Likun and Ren Ke
SINGAPORE: Xi Jinping and Ma Ying-jeou came together in Singapore on Saturday afternoon in the first meeting between leaders of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait since 1949, turning a historic page in cross-Strait relations.
Both dressed in dark suits, Xi in a red tie and Ma in a blue one, the two leaders shook hands at around 3 p.m. local time before going on to a closed-door meeting at the Shangri-La Hotel.
Under blinding camera flash, they smiled warmly at each other and shook hands firmly for more than a minute.
“Today will be remembered in history,” Xi, Chinese president and general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, said in his remarks before the meeting.
Ma said the handshake brought together “both the past and the future of the two sides across the Strait, as well as the hopes of the rise of the Chinese nation.”
In a four-point proposal made during the meeting, Xi described the 1992 Consensus that gave birth to the one-China principle, and opposition to Taiwan independence as the common political ground of both sides.
He also called for deeper exchange and dialogue, boosting the well-being of people on both sides, and bringing about the great revival of the Chinese nation together.
“Both sides belong to one country… That fact and legal basis has never changed, and will never change,” Xi said.
Xi and Ma attended a dinner together after meeting face-to-face for about an hour.
It is the first time that leaders across the Taiwan Strait have shaken hands and faced each other across a table in 66 years. Relations between the mainland and Taiwan stalled when the forces of the Kuomintang (KMT), led by Chiang Kai-shek, fled to Taiwan in 1949 after a civil war.
In their capacities as “leaders of the two sides” of the Taiwan Strait, both Xi and Ma addressed each other only as “mister” throughout their meeting Saturday.
This form of address recalls how Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek addressed each other in letters and telegrams decades ago.
Mao and Chiang met in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing in 1945, but failed to prevent the ensuing civil war. The decades that followed were characterized by animosity and hostility.
Xi admitted that there had been times when the Taiwan Strait was overshadowed by military confrontation and division, but the brotherhood between those on both sides eventually triumphed over isolation in the 1980s.
“No force can pull us apart, because we are brothers connected by our flesh, even if our bones are broken. We are one family whose blood is thicker than water,” Xi told Ma.
Such a close bond is testimony to the 66-year history of cross-Strait relations, despite ordeals and long periods of isolation, he said.
Ma declared that the conflict and confrontation between the two no longer exist, calling on both sides to resolve their disputes through peaceful means.
Cheng You-ping, head of the political and economic research center of Taipei University, told Xinhua that Saturday’s meeting showed the two sides shared many concerns.
“We are indeed one family and one community of shared destiny that can not be separated,” he said. “The leaders themselves were comfortable with each other. They did not act like strangers who have never met before. It is very touching for an onlooker like me.”
In their addresses, both leaders commended the progress of relations over the last seven years.
Ma noted that since 2008, the mainland and Taiwan have signed 23 agreements. Over 40,000 students have taken advantage of academic exchange programs, and now more than 8 million tourists travel between the two sides each year. Annual trade is now worth over 170 billion U.S. dollars.
Saturday’s meeting was only possible, said Xi, thanks to the peaceful and fruitful progress made in the past seven years.
“At present, we are at a crossroads for choosing the direction and path for future development in cross-Strait relations,” he said.
“We are sitting together today to prevent the historical tragedy from repeating itself, prevent the fruits from peaceful development of cross-Strait ties from being lost again, enable compatriots across the Strait to continue to create a peaceful life, and enable our next generations to share a bright future,” he added.
Just over a decade ago, such a meeting would not have been possible. Provocative maneuvers by Taiwan secessionist forces threw the situation into crisis.
In April 2005, Hu Jintao, then general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, and then KMT Chairman Lien Chan held the first meeting between leaders of the two political parties in six decades.
Saturday’s meeting is another warming of relations since that ice-breaking encounter of a decade ago.
“To have these leaders sit down together and meet is in itself a very big deal,” said Zhu Weidong of Taiwan Research Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. “The meeting will set the tone for the future and certainly play a powerful role in future communication.”
The choice of Singapore as venue is perhaps a tribute to another historic event in cross-Strait ties.
In April 1993, the heads of the mainland’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits and Taiwan’s Straits Exchange Foundation met there to hammer out the common understanding now known as the “1992 Consensus,” laying the groundwork for the situation witnessed today.
The Xi-Ma meeting is a reinforcement of the 1992 Consensus. Ma told Xi that the consensus is the political foundation for peaceful development of the warming relationship.
Li Mingjiang, an associate professor with S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, noted that although the Chinese mainland and Taiwan had both referred to the 1992 Consensus on different occasions in the past, the fact that leaders across the Taiwan Strait made a clear mention of the term during Saturday’s meeting gives it a whole new meaning.
As long as the both sides stick to the one-China principle, the Xi-Ma meeting would not be the last of its kind between leaders across the Taiwan Strait, Li said.
“If everything goes well, this could be turned into something regular, and that could, to a great extent, help resolve a lot of issues between the two sides,” he said.
“In that sense, the Xi-Ma meeting is not just the culmination of progress in cross-Strait ties in the past few years, but a new beginning,” Li said.
Closely watched, the historic meeting drew a broadly favorable response from media and public Saturday.
Charles Kao, founder and CEO of Taiwan-based Global Views Monthly, described Ma and Xi as “peace-makers and miracle-workers.”
Writing of his personal experiences, Kao said Taiwan was “where my heart belongs” and the mainland, “where my soul rests.”
“I am Chinese, Taiwanese and a Nanjinger (a resident of the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing, once the country’s capital before 1949). My biggest wish is for peace across the Strait,” he said.
Looking to the future, during their meeting, Xi told Ma his wish that together they would make the cake of common interests bigger still, with compatriots on both sides sharing a larger slice.
(Fu Shuangqi in Taipei and Li Zhihui in Beijing contributed to the story)
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