x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Taiwan leader hosts historic meeting

President Ma Ying-jeou makes history by becoming the island's first leader to meet with a senior Chinese official since the end of a civil war in 1949.

The Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou (right) and Chen Yunlin (left), Beijing's most senior negotiator on Taiwanese affairs, shake hands at the Taipei Guest House.
The Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou (right) and Chen Yunlin (left), Beijing's most senior negotiator on Taiwanese affairs, shake hands at the Taipei Guest House.

The Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou made history today when he became the island's first leader to meet with a senior Chinese official since the end of a civil war in 1949. Mr Ma greeted Beijing's senior negotiator on Taiwanese affairs, Chen Yunlin at a government guesthouse in central Taipei amid tight security as rowdy anti-China protests continued outside the venue. The two men shook hands and exchanged gifts.

Mr Chen, who is Beijing's most senior negotiator on Taiwanese affairs, presented President Ma with an ink painting of a horse, as "ma" is Chinese for horse. In his only comment during the meeting, Mr Chen told Mr Ma: "This is by a master artist." Mr Ma, who earlier this year became the island's third democratically elected president since 1996, gave Mr Chen a ceramic vase, making no audible comment as he did so.

Mr Ma, referring to the 60 years of hostilities between the two formerly bitter enemies, made a short speech to a room packed with officials and their wives, as well as television cameras and photographers. Their meeting, which was broadcast live, lasted around five minutes. Mr Ma said meetings this week between Taiwanese and Chinese officials, which saw the two sides sign a range of economic agreements, "symbolise a major step forward for cross-strait ties".

"The development fits the expectations of the people of both sides and will contribute to cross-strait stability and prosperity," Mr Ma said. "But we cannot deny that differences and challenges still exist, such as Taiwan's security and Taiwan's position in the international community. "In the future both sides should see the reality and should not deny each other's existence in order to promote the welfare of the people and cross-strait peace and to resolve our differences."

Mr Chen arrived for a five-day visit on Monday, becoming the most senior Beijing official to step foot on the island since it was estranged from China at the end of the civil war won by Mao Zedong's communists in 1949. With his local counterpart Chiang Pin-kung he signed four deals aimed at drawing the two sides closer economically, but which have sparked widespread protests from supporters of formal independence for the island.

They agreed to introduce direct cargo shipping and postal services, increase passenger flights and shorten routes across the Taiwan Strait, and co-operate on food safety. China promised to allow more citizens to visit the island, just 180km off its eastern coast. Beijing regards Taiwan as a renegade province and has vowed to retake it with force if necessary, especially if it declares independence.

*AFP