Implications of the 2015 Taiwan-China Meeting

by Richard J. Ellings
November 6, 2015

NBR president Richard J. Ellings comments on the significance of the upcoming November 7 meeting in Singapore between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou.

NBR President Richard J. Ellings

November 6, 2015

On Saturday, November 7, Chinese president Xi Jinping and Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou will meet in Singapore.

For both leaders, Xi Jinping and Ma Ying-jeou, the summit is all about symbolism with no significant agreements. Xi is feeling confident about his leadership and about China’s material and military might, and is executing an overlaying global, soft-power strategy. The goals of the strategy appear to be stretching Chinese influence and standing diplomatically, consonant with the country’s economic accomplishments, defense investments, and evolving interpretation of historical destiny. Accordingly, by talking to an accommodating KMT Taiwanese president, Xi sends the signal that good relations with China and even progress toward unification should not be feared in Taiwan and that these prospects ought to be considered positively in the upcoming Taiwanese presidential election. He furthermore shows his domestic audience in China that he is offering Taiwan the high road to unification.

For Ma, the summit is a history-making event. It is a sign that his careful, open policy toward China is reaping results, in this case a friendly, path-breaking summit, the first face-to-face meeting between the top CCP and KMT leaders since Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek met in August 1945.

While supportive of the greater stability and reduction in tensions of cross-Strait relations that have transpired over the last eight years, the U.S. will watch carefully for developments that might challenge Washington’s own interests. And finally, how the meeting will be received domestically in Taiwan also matters enormously. The announcement was met with some controversy as Taiwan’s robust civil society and vibrant democracy debate the conduct of cross-strait negotiations and implementation of subsequent agreements.