Members of the Chinese Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, fled to the island of Taiwan in 1949, as it became clear that they were losing their civil war against China’s Communist Party. Since then, Taiwan has become a democracy and no Taiwanese president has met with the leader of the Chinese Communist Party—and the Communist Party has been reluctant to meet with a Taiwanese leader for fear that it would confer legitimacy on the island’s government.
That will all change this Saturday (Nov. 7). Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou has been invited to meet with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, while Xi is visiting Singapore. And according to Taiwan’s Central News Agency (CNA), Ma will attend.
Ma and Xi will not issue any agreements or joint statements, Taiwanese officials told CNA. That makes sense: the meeting is highly controversial and momentous enough without any major announcements. Ma is set to hold press conferences before and after the meetings, however.
The two leaders will be walking on historical eggshells in Singapore. There will be the usual disputes over nomenclature. Beijing does not recognize Taiwan as a country, viewing it instead as a renegade province. That means Xi cannot refer to Ma as “president,” and must refer to Taiwan as a “province” or “economy.”
The meeting will also be politically sensitive at home for Ma, whose term ends in May. The KMT—the party Ma represents—is deeply unpopular in Taiwan, in no small part due to the perception there that it is too friendly toward China. The party is likely to lose the upcoming presidential election this January to the Democratic Progressive Party, which leans toward separating Taiwan from China as much as possible.
A meeting of between the presidents of China and Taiwan has long been discussed, but has never materialized. Last year there were signs that Ma and Xi would meet during an APEC summit held in Beijing, but Taiwan ended up sending its vice president instead.