Presidents of Taiwan and China set to meet for the first time since the Chinese civil war divided the two sides in 1949.
Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou says his upcoming meeting with President Xi Jinping was about further normalising ties with China and had nothing to do with the democratic island’s elections in January.
His discussions with Xi could help reduce hostilities in the short term, Ma said on Thursday, adding he hoped future leaders of Taiwan would be able to hold such meetings.
“This meeting is for the Republic of China’s [Taiwan’s] future, the future of cross-strait ties,” Ma said in his first public remarks since the surprise news was announced at midnight on Tuesday.
“This is not about an election, but is based on the consideration of the happiness of the next generation.”
Ma was speaking at a news conference ahead of the talks in Singapore scheduled on Saturday with Xi Jinping, the first such meeting of the two political rivals since the Chinese civil war ended in 1949.
It coincides with rising anti-China sentiment in Taiwan ahead of presidential and parliamentary polls in January, at which Ma’s Kuomintang party is likely to lose to the Democratic Progressive Party, which traditionally favours independence from China.
The Taiwan president also said that he would bring up the issue of the South China Sea in an upcoming meeting with Xi Jinping.
Earlier, the director of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said that the meeting will be held openly and transparently and denied the meeting was arranged in a rush or in secret.
Both governments said the leaders would discuss cross-strait ties at the unexpected meeting.
China deems the island a breakaway province to be taken back, by force if necessary, particularly if it makes moves towards independence. No peace treaty has even been signed to formally end the civil war.
On Wednesday, opposition protesters shouted slogans with placards in Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, opposing the planned meeting.
Earlier in the day Taiwan’s main opposition Democratic Progressive Party Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen criticised the manner in which an upcoming meeting was announced, saying it damaged democracy.
Ma, who steps down next year due to term limits, has made improving economic links with China a key policy since he took office in 2008. He has signed landmark business and tourism deals, though there has been no progress in resolving their political differences.
China’s foreign ministry said that the historic meeting between the two leaders was in the interests of the world.
“I believe that the peaceful development of cross-straits relations across the Taiwan strait fits the interests of both sides, and also fits the interests of the whole region and the world,” said China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, at a regular news briefing.
The US’ top diplomat for Asia said on Wednesday it was hard to see which Taiwanese political party would benefit most in January elections from the meeting.
But Daniel Russel, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said he hoped Saturday’s meeting in Singapore would continue the positive momentum in China-Taiwan ties seen in the past several years.