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China, Taiwan to Hold 'Historic' Talks as Elections Near

by William Ide November 04, 2015

Just weeks before Taiwan holds general and presidential elections, Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou has announced that he will hold face-to-face talks with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Singapore.

The meeting Saturday will be the first between Taiwanese and Chinese leaders since 1949 and authorities in China are predicting it will be a "major historic milestone" in the development of cross-strait relations.

Opposition to the talks

In Taiwan, however, opposition leaders are already voicing their concern about the talks and dozens have begun to rally in the capital of Taipei.

A spokesman for President Ma said no agreements would be signed and stressed that the talks aim to solidify relations between the two sides and "keep the status quo across the Taiwan Strait.'

Special rules for the talks

Chinese state media have said the two will not address one another as president during the meeting, and instead call one another "Mister." The two governments do not officially recognize one another.

After holding brief talks in the afternoon, the two hold separate press conferences and dine together in the evening.

Worries about over reliance on China

Relations between Taiwan and China have bloomed during President Ma Ying-jeou's tenure in office, but so has public concern – especially among younger voters - about the island's over-reliance on China.

Protesters began to gather outside Taiwan's Legislative Yuan and nearby the Presidential Office just hours after the meeting was announced. Some urged Ma to call the meeting off, while others voiced concern that the talks did not have proper public oversight.

Cheng Yun-peng, a spokesman for the opposition Democratic Progressive Party or DPP said the meeting could be used as what he called an election ploy. He also voiced concern that Ma might make any unauthorized agreements during his closed door meeting with Xi.

'Cross-strait issues have national interests at stake and should go beyond political considerations,' Cheng said, speaking at a news conference early Wednesday.

Effect of talks on presidential elections

According to public opinion polls, the DPP has a strong lead over Ma Ying-jeou's Nationalist Party and is poised to not only win the presidential elections, but could also win control over Taiwan's legislature for the first time in history. The elections are scheduled for January 16.

How big of an impact the meeting could have on the elections was not immediately clear.

China-Taiwan talks will be historic

Eric Chu, the Nationalist Party's presidential candidate, echoed China's position about the meeting, saying the meeting would be a historic milestone for cross-strait relations.

In Washington, White House spokesman John Earnest told reporters, 'The fundamental interest of the United States is in a stable and peaceful cross-strait relationship."

President Ma's Nationalist Party fled China to Taiwan after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong's communists in 1949. In Taiwan, the party ruled the island with an iron fist for decades, silencing dissidents, much like the Communist Party does in China. But unlike China's Communist Party rulers, Taiwan gradually opened up, allowing for opposition parties. The island held its first democratic elections in 1996.

While in office, President Ma's party has signed 23 cross-strait trade agreements. However, an effort to ram a Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement through the legislature without a clause by clause review was met with strong opposition last year, when young protesters occupied Taiwan's Legislative Yuan.

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