Demonstrators have gathered outside Taipei’s parliament to protest against a historic meeting planned between the leaders of Taiwan and China.
Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou will meet his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Singapore on Saturday, in what will be the first meeting between leaders from the two rival nations since the end of a civil war in 1949.
The surprise summit comes less than three months before Taiwan’s elections.
Wednesday’s protests were being led by legislative candidate Huang Kuo-chang, a leader of the Sunflower Movement, which in 2014 opposed a planned trade deal with China.
The protesters, worried about Beijing’s growing influence on the island, said President Ma has let down the Taiwanese people.
“Beijing’s move will not only affect the coming presidential election [in January], but it is also a shot at Taiwan’s democracy,” protester Yung-ming Hsu, a political analyst at Taipei-based Soochow University, told reporters outside the parliament building.
Taiwan opposition leader and presidential front-runner Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday said she “felt very surprised” to hear about Saturday’s talks.
“A meeting of the leaders of the two sides across the strait is a great event, involving the dignity and national interests of Taiwan,” she told reporters. “But to let the people know in such a hasty and chaotic manner is damaging to Taiwan’s democracy.”
The unexpected meeting follows a gradual warming of relations with Beijing since Ma of the China-friendly Kuomintang party came to power in 2008.
The two presidents will “exchange views on cross-strait issues” Ma’s spokesman Charles Chen said on Tuesday, referring to the stretch of water separating mainland China and Taiwan.
The intention of the visit is to “secure cross-strait peace” but no agreement will be signed, he said.
Beijing still considers the island part of its territory even though the two sides have been governed separately since nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek and his KMT forces fled to Taiwan after losing the civil war to Mao Zedong’s communists.
“The purpose of President Ma’s visit is to secure cross-strait peace and maintain the status quo of the Taiwan Straits,” Chen said in a statement.
“No agreement will be signed, nor any joint statement be released,” he said, adding that Ma will hold an international press conference on Thursday.
The White House gave a cautious welcome.
“We would certainly welcome steps that are taken on both sides of the Taiwan strait to try and reduce tensions and improve cross-strait relations,” said spokesman Josh Earnest.
“But we will have to see what actually comes out of the meeting.”