China rejected Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou’s bid for a meeting with President Xi Jinping at a gathering of Asian leaders in Beijing later this year.
China decided the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in October “isn’t the place” for a first-ever meeting between leaders of the two governments, Wang Yu-chi, minister of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, told reporters in Taipei yesterday.
Wang returned yesterday from a four-day trip to China where he met with Zhang Zhijun, minister of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, marking the first official cross-strait contact in 65 years. The two met for a two-hour tea in Shanghai on Feb. 13, where the topic was broached by Zhang, according to Wang.
Ma said in December he was willing to travel to Beijing for this year’s APEC summit, where leaders of member nations often hold bi-lateral meetings in addition to group discussions. A meeting with Xi could only happen if Ma participates in his official capacity as President of the Republic of China, the name retained by Taiwan’s government since 1949, Ma has said.
China and Taiwan have been governed separately since Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists decamped to Taiwan during a civil war. Though China became Taiwan’s largest trade partner more than a decade ago and direct flights between the territories began in 2008, the two sides have never signed a peace treaty or negotiated a truce.
“China of course doesn’t want to give Taiwan any more international exposure,” the opposition Democratic Progressive Party’s China affairs director Tsai-lung Hong said by phone yesterday. Solving problems with the economy should be Ma’s priority, not cross-strait political meetings, Hong said.
Taiwan joined APEC under the name of Chinese Taipei in 1991, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at the same time as China. A former vice president, Vincent Siew, and Lien Chan, honorary chairman of Ma’s party, have represented Ma at the summit in recent years because of China’s opposition to his participation.
The world’s most populous nation claims Taiwan as part of its territory, firing missiles into the stretch of water between them before Taiwan’s first democratic presidential election in 1996. China currently keeps 1,200 conventional missiles aimed at Taiwan, according to a U.S. Defense Department Intelligence Agency report this week.
At the first official contact between the governments since 1949 on Feb. 11 in the Chinese city of Nanjing, Zhang shook Wang’s hand and called him by his formal title.
Ma said the meeting was a step toward normalizing cross-strait relations and that he expects closer ties, according to an e-mailed statement from his office. Still, Taiwan upholds the principle of “one China with different interpretations,” he said.
“The United States strongly supports efforts between China and Taiwan to improve cross-strait relations, and we are glad to see the recent meeting,” Evan Medeiros, U.S. National Security Council’s senior director for Asian affairs said, according to the Taiwan statement.
In Nanjing, Wang laid flowers at the mausoleum of Sun Yat-sen, a revolutionary revered on both sides of the strait, and praised Sun’s “three principles of the people” -- nationalism, democracy and the livelihood of the people -- as well as the principle of an indivisible China.
In Shanghai, the two counterparts met again informally for a two-hour tea at the Peace Hotel, along the Bund district near the Huangpu river. Wang and Zhang discussed topics from Shanghai’s transformation to Taiwanese cinema, in addition to expressing their respective positions how the leaders of their governments might meet. Zhang may also visit Taiwan in the first half of this year, Wang said yesterday.
— With assistance by Gregory Turk, and Adela Lin