Interview: China-Taiwan summit: High stakes in meeting, says mainland academic

Beijing (dpa) – Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou are scheduled to hold talks on Saturday in Singapore, the first face-to-face meeting between leaders since the two sides split in 1949 after the Chinese civil war.

The historic meeting comes as Taiwan prepares for general elections in mid-January. Taiwan has said the meeting would adhere to the 1992 consensus, under which both sides agree there is only one China, but each is left to define “China” for itself.

However, Taiwan’s opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is leading by a wide margin at the opinion polls against the incumbent Kuomintang party in part because of growing public support for Taiwanese independence. It is unclear whether DPP leader Tsai Ing-wen would uphold the 1992 consensus.

Jia Qingguo, deputy dean of international relations at Peking University in Beijing, discusses mainland China’s worries and motivations with dpa.

dpa: Why is Xi changing course and finally meeting Taiwan’s president? What is his motive?

Jia: I think it is a result of long-term coordination by both sides. Both sides have been studying how to meet for quite a long time. I think the reason they are finally meeting at this time is probably related to the election in Taiwan. Currently, the Kuomintang’s chance of winning the election is not very promising and the gap between public support for the two parties is quite big. This won’t change too much whether Ma meets Xi or not, but [the mainland side] might think there is a possibility of changing the situation, if they meet.

dpa: Isn’t Xi afraid of legitimizing the democratically-elected government of Taiwan?

Jia: The mainland government never claimed that Taiwan’s government is illegal. It always admitted Taiwan’s government has a right to govern, but did not agree that the Taiwan government can represent Taiwan. They should be identified as the Taiwan area of China.

dpa: What do you think Xi will raise during the meeting?

I think the mainland will emphasize the 1992 consensus and the one-China position at this meeting. If China can help the Kuomintang win the election, this will benefit the mainland so they may discuss the election.

dpa: Why would mainland China be worried about a DPP victory?

Jia: Cross-strait relations has been quite stable since Ma Ying-jeou took the post. The two sides have both benefited from this; there have been many economic and people-to-people exchanges and both sides appreciate the stability. If the Kuomintang wins the election, the current situation would continue. If the DDP wins, the future will be more uncertain. The DDP doesn’t accept the 1992 consensus. Tsai Ing-wen is vague on her personal stance on this issues, and although she has said she hopes to develop stable and close economic relations with the mainland, we don’t know how she will be influenced by the strong pro-independence force from her party.

dpa: Could the meeting backfire for Beijing, if the Kuomintang is seen as China’s best friend, pushing Taiwan voters favouring a more independent course for Taiwan towards the DPP?

Jia: I don’t think it will backfire. People in Taiwan also care about peace and stability. This meeting is helpful for building stability and communication across the strait.

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