Taiwan and China to hold historic summit in Singapore

November 4, 2015, 4:22am

Xi Jinping (left) and Ma Ying-jeou will discuss stronger ties, Taiwan says. Photo by AFP

By BBC News

Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou will meet his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Singapore on Saturday - the first ever meeting between leaders of the two sides.

Both said the talks would focus on relations across the Taiwan Straits.

China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since 1949, when the Nationalist government fled to the island after defeat by the Communists. However, ties have improved since President Ma took office in 2008.

The Chinese government claims Taiwan as part of its territory and threatens to counter any move to outright independence by military force. Taiwanese spokesman Chen Yi-hsin said President Ma's aim was "to promote peace cross the Taiwan Strait and maintain status quo".

"No agreement will be signed, and no statement issued," he said, adding that Mr Ma would hold a news conference on Thursday to explain his decision to hold the talks.

Taiwan's mainland affairs council is also to hold a news conference on the meeting later on Wednesday, officials said. China's official Xinhua news said the two sides would "exchange views on promoting the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations".

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the US welcomed any steps to reduce tensions and improve relations, but added: "We'll have to see what actually comes out of the meeting."

Ties with China have improved under President Ma, whose Kuomintang (KMT) party is seen as pro-Beijing.

In July 2009 the two leaders exchanged direct messages for the first time in more than 60 years, albeit in their respective party functions, and not as national leaders. A year later, the two countries signed a historic trade pact.

However, correspondents say growing fears over China's influence has led to widespread dissatisfaction in Taiwan.

The KMT suffered a crushing defeat in local elections last year, a result that was widely seen as a rejection of President Ma's push for closer ties with China.

President Ma steps down next year having served two terms and earlier this month the KMT dropped its candidate for January's presidential election following a series of poor ratings in opinion polls.

Analysts say China is likely to see a meeting between the two leaders as a final chance to press its case for improved ties, in case the KMT loses the election.

China has insisted that countries cannot have official relations with both China and Taiwan, with the result that Taiwan has formal diplomatic ties with only 21 UN member states.

Taiwan also has no seat at the UN, having lost it to China in 1971. Repeated attempts to regain representation at the UN have been blocked.