China holds meeting with Taiwan for first time since 1949

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, above, met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday. (Courtesy of Wikimedia / Tktru)

History was made on Saturday in an incredible demonstration of the power of diplomacy in the modern age. Last Saturday Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou met in Singapore to discuss relations between the two entities.

This is the first meeting of its kind since the divisive, acrimonious split between the two in 1949.

The meeting is a sign of clear warming between the two embittered entities.

Although hailed by the governments of both sides as an excellent sign, others are not so sure.

First among these skeptics are some Taiwanese, and the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, in particular.

The next Taiwanese election is coming up soon, and Ma’s meeting with the Chinese has not helped his party’s polling numbers.

Although Ma has reached the term limit of a president, his party’s candidate is falling behind the candidate of the DPP.

Whether Taiwanese citizens will see the benefits of meeting with China as superior to the status quo is still to be seen.

Nearly as concerned is the United States, whose relations with China are sketchy at best.

Previously, although the U.S. didn’t acknowledge Taiwan’s statehood, it supported them against the Chinese and, in turn, counted on them as allies against the Chinese.

The warming relations between the two countries could overturn an aspect of U.S. strategy in the region. On the other hand, the U.S. stands to gain from the normalization of relations, as well.

If Taiwan is peacefully integrated into China, or at least comes to an agreement with the country, China will both lose international diplomatic leverage against the United States.

Moreover, a merger or agreement would free up U.S. resources in the region to focus on other issues, such as China’s thrust into the South China Sea.

Finally, although of little geostrategic importance, the likelihood of war between the two is decreasing, which is a powerful humanitarian benefit.

Clearly, the U.S. has no desire to start a war with China, but exactly what path to take is a matter of contention to U.S. analysts.

More hawkish, realist advisors are likely to advise urging Taiwan to maintain its distance from China, and to up the ante to prevent reunification.

Yet this approach presents numerous problems, not the least of which is a real possibility of war.

There is essentially no politic way to try to deepen the divide between the two countries, and even attempting to interfere is a risky diplomatic move.

Liberalist analysts are likely to counsel the opposite, suggesting that ties between the two will promote peace in the region and the world.

Although this is true, it’s unlikely that Taiwan is China’s greatest ambition.

The history of animosity between Taiwan and Chine is even older than the entities’ split date in 1949, with its origins in the Chinese civil war before and during World War II.

Starting in 1927, two separate forces sought control of China, each waging vicious war against the other.

The Communist Party of China, lead by former Chinese dictator Mao Zedong, fought against the Kuomintang, a nationalistic force under the command of former Taiwanese dictator Chiang Kai-shek.

The war was bitter and long, and ended with the exile of Kuomintang forces and government to Taiwan in 1949.

For decades afterwards, through much of the Cold War, both sides maintained that the other was an illegitimate government and claimed both mainland China and the island of Taiwan.

As China gained international power and prestige, the international community began to acknowledge its sovereignty, but neither side ceased its arguing.

Early in the Cold War, with China a rising communist power, the United States saw Taiwan as a necessary ally, pledging to protect it against any Chinese attempts to reclaim the island.

That pledge has been maintained since then, but lately Chinese-Taiwanese relations have been thawing. This latest meeting is an excellent indicator of this thaw.

Indeed, although official businesses in each country are not allowed to invest or work in the other, underground and not-so-underground trading has been happening for some time.

Using intermediaries in Singapore or Hong Kong, businesses on both sides have begun moving across borders.


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