Fact Sheet: 2015 Taiwan-China Meeting
On the afternoon of November 7, 2015, Chinese president Xi Jinping will meet with Taiwan’s president Ma Ying-jeou at the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore. This is the first-ever meeting between the respective leaders of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC). The two leaders will talk in private for twenty minutes, hold separate press conferences, and then reconvene for dinner.
The meeting was initially revealed by Taiwan media on late Tuesday, November 3, and it was quickly confirmed by government representatives on both sides. Government representatives stressed that the meeting will not culminate in the signing of any agreements or joint statements. Perhaps more significantly, the move is a political attempt to demonstrate to the Taiwan people that the Kuomintang (KMT) is the party best poised to engage with Beijing.
According to Taiwan officials, Xi and Ma will meet to “consolidate cross-strait peace,” as both sides share an underlying “consensus” and should strive to maintain the status quo. This wording is likely a reference to the 1992 Consensus in which Chinese Communist Party and KMT officials purportedly agreed to the principle that there is “one China” but were deliberately vague about which China they were referring to (the PRC or the ROC). This principle is in line with Beijing’s long-held position that Taiwan is an inherent part of the PRC and its refusal to acknowledge it as a separate entity.
On November 4, the head of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, Zhang Zhijun
, stated that Xi and Ma will meet in their capacity as leaders of the respective sides of the strait [以兩岸領導人身份和名義舉行]. Zhang affirmed that such an appellation still adheres to the “one-China principle” and that Ma and Xi have agreed to address each other as “mister” rather than “president.” Even so, China’s acknowledgement of Ma as the leader of one side of the Strait, though vague, marks a major shift from precedent in cross-strait exchangess. Prior to this upcoming meeting, officials on both sides of the Strait have only met under the auspices of party-to-party talks or under the title of their respective economic entities on the sidelines of APEC.
Government representatives have stressed that the meeting will not culminate in the signing of any agreements or joint statements. Other details remain uncertain and anything up until the meeting is speculation, but the meeting comes at a sensitive time for Taiwan’s people, who will go to the polls on January 16, 2015. These presidential and legislative elections will determine the course of Taiwan’s relationship with the mainland.
Since taking office in 2008, Ma has pursued a policy of rapprochement with China and has been credited with reducing cross-strait tensions. The two sides have signed cross-strait agreements on topics ranging from tourism and education to a major preferential trade agreement. They have also reopened talks between the Straits Exchange Foundation and the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, semi-official organizations responsible for managing cross-strait relations. China has also tacitly accepted Ma’s “diplomatic truce” and has not opposed Taiwan’s participation in international organizations as an observer or under a special status, a shift from previous attempts to squeeze Taiwan’s international space.
At the same time, the pace, scope, and methods used to achieve these gains have been the subject of much criticism from Taiwan’s people. Many argue that economic liberalization has only benefited a select few and has done little to improve the livelihoods of the greater public. Others worry about the perils of growing dependence on the mainland and the future of a tilting cross-strait balance. These doubts culminated in the Sunflower Movement of March 2013, when student protesters stormed and occupied Taiwan’s legislature in opposition to the passing of the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement, which they believed lacked transparency.
Numerous voices have come out against the Xi-Ma meeting, including Taiwan’s primary opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The DPP pointed to a statement Ma made in November 2014 affirming that he would not meet with Xi until the right circumstances arose, which he defined as a time “when it is needed by the country, is supported by its people, and with the approval of the legislature.” The DPP has called for greater clarification on the details of the meeting, arguing that it was “arranged in [a] non-transparent manner.” Calls for transparency were echoed by the mayor of Taipei City, Ko Wen-je, an independent.
The meeting has also been the subject of major international attention. White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said the administration would await what "actually comes out of the meeting" before passing judgment, but “would certainly welcome steps that are taken on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to try and reduce tensions and improve cross-strait relations.” These comments are in line with long-held U.S. views that the future of Taiwan should be decided by peaceful means and that any cross-strait interactions should promote stability. The United States has consistently maintained this perspective since Washington terminated official diplomatic relations with the ROC in 1979. The Taiwan Relations Act, the Six Assurances, and the Three Communiques have served as the foundation of U.S. policy towards Taiwan and have guided relations to this day.
Engaging Asia 2015, Pacific Power: U.S. Alliances and Partnerships in Asia, Congressman Matt Salmon’s closing remarks (September 2015)
“U.S.-Taiwan Relations: Hobson’s Choice and the False Dilemma,” chapter by Russell Hsiao in Strategic Asia 2014–15: U.S. Alliances and Partnerships at the Center of Global Power (December 2014)
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"Abraham M. Denmark Testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs" (April 2014)
"Don’t Abandon Taiwan for Better China Ties" by Abe Denmark and Tiffany Ma (September 2013)
“Taiwan in an Asian ‘Game of Thrones,’” essay by Alexander Chieh-cheng Huang in Asia Policy (January 2013)
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This brief was prepared by Jessica Drun, a Bridge Award Fellow at NBR.