For the first time since the Chinese Civil War ended in 1949, the leaders of the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan will gather for a formal meeting.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou will meet Saturday at Singapore and will address each other as “Mister” rather than their honorific titles, then have dinner after a meeting, according China’s state-run news agency Xinhua.
The Central News Agency in Taiwan reported the leaders will sign no agreements but will discuss ways to “cement peace.”
Since taking office in 2008, Ma has played a major role in softening relations with Beijing.
China and Taiwan officially are the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China, respectively. The two separated in 1949 following the communist victory in the civil war. However, China considers Taiwan a breakaway province of China and has threatened military action in response to a formal declaration of independence by Taiwan.
In Taiwan, news of the meeting sparked protests. On Wednesday, protestors gathered outside Taiwan’s parliament holding placards reading “Don’t come back if you go” and “Stop the China-Taiwan relationship.”
Opposition to the meeting is also being seen in China.
“There were apprehensions in Beijing that a meeting with the Taiwanese president might legitimize Taiwan as a sovereign state,” said Michael J. Cole, a fellow of the China Policy Institute, during an interview with CNN.
Despite tensions, however, China remains Taiwan’s biggest trading partner.
Chinese banks now operate on the island and several Taiwanese companies have factories in China. Hundreds of flights go to and from each country each week.
The meeting comes ahead of Taiwan’s general election in January. Last month, leaders of the Kuomintang (KMT) Party overwhelmingly voted to replace Ma with another candidate after polls indicated it was falling behind the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which traditionally has represented Taiwan’s political independence from Beijing. Term limits also hinder Ma from running.
Zhang Baohui, professor of political science at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, told CNN that the KMT is using the meeting to reshape the vote’s dynamics
“Nobody predicted this,” Baohui said. “It refocuses the voters on cross-strait relations, which always benefits KMT candidates.”