Taiwan’s president recently met with his counterpart from political rival China, Taiwanese officials said. The meeting is a historic culmination of nearly eight years of quickly improved relations–despite wariness among many in the mainland government. The last time that the presidents of these two nations met was 1949!
But don’t get too excited too quickly. While this meeting is meant to showcase the Nationalist’s adeptness at dealing with China, it also carries significant risks.
“This meeting will only hurt the Nationalists at home, as it will cause them to even more be seen as Beijing’s preferred Taiwan party,” said Sean King, the senior vice president of Park Strategies, a New York consultancy. “This could be the mainland’s last chance to liaise with the Nationalist Party while it’s in power, for years to come.”
Leaders from the two sides have not met since Nationalist Party’s Chiang Kai-shek lost the Chinese civil war to the Communist Party and Mao Zedong in the late ‘40s. The Nationalists relocated 100 miles off the Chinese mainland to Taiwan, and the two sides ruled completely separately since then. Until now, that is.
According to an announcement from China’s state-run Xinhua news agency, the meeting was arranged after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s call “on people of the mainland and Taiwan to unite to safeguard peace. However, many know that behind the kind words, China is insisting that the two sides eventually reunite—even if force has to be used.
“To hold a meeting across the Taiwan Strait is the consistent goal of leaders on both sides,” said Jinping’s presidential spokesman Charles Chen. “President Ma recently has repeated many times that ‘at the right time and on the right occasion and in the right capacity,’ he would not rule out a meeting.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time the states have spoken since the late ‘40s. In 2008, the Nationalist president Ma set aside hostilities in order to organize a few official meetings, resulting in 23 deals covering topics such as trade, transit, and investment.
While relations certainly aren’t perfect between the two nations, November’s meeting was a step in the right direction.