Both sides asked Singapore to facilitate meeting: MFA

Singapore was requested by both the Chinese and the Taiwanese to facilitate the meeting between their respective top leaders, President Xi Jinping and President Ma Ying-jeou, the Republic's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said.

"As a close and longstanding friend of both mainland China and Taiwan, we are happy to facilitate and be the venue for their direct dialogue," the ministry said in a statement yesterday.

It added that the Xi-Ma summit was separate from the state visit of Mr Xi to Singapore to mark the 25th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

The Kuomintang moved to Taiwan after losing the civil war to the Chinese Communist Party in 1949, and the two sides have been separately ruled since then.

People-to-people and trade exchanges between the two sides began in the late 1980s and, in April 1993, landmark high-level talks between the two sides were held in Singapore.

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in its statement, recalled the historic "Wang-Koo talks" as they were called, after the surnames of the representatives from the two sides.

The two men were Mr Wang Daohan, chairman of China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, and Mr Koo Chen-fu, chief of Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF). Both organisations were semi-official.

The venue of the talks, from April 27 to 29, was the conference room on the 26th level of the NOL Building in Alexandra Road.

On why Singapore was chosen as a venue for the talks, SEF secretary-general Cheyne Chiu said then that the preference was to hold the first high-level meeting "in a neutral third country". Holding them in either Taiwan or mainland China would be "awkward" for the two sides. He added that the choice of Singapore was unanimous.

The talks yielded four agreements to promote trade and people-to-people exchanges.

Cross-strait ties burgeoned after that, apart from blips in 1995 and 1996.

Mr Wang and Mr Koo met again in 1998 in Shanghai before talks stalled from 1999 after then Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui's characterising of cross-strait ties as special state-to-state relations in July that year and the subsequent coming to power of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party in 2000.

It was not till 2008 that ties began to warm again after Mr Ma became president.

Now, near the end of his term next May, comes the momentous event that, said Singapore's former foreign minister George Yeo, "will hopefully open a new chapter in the history of China and the peaceful revival of the Chinese nation".

Mr Yeo, now chairman of Hong Kong-based Kerry Logistics, added: "The symbolism of the meeting itself will alter the psychology of cross-strait relations in a positive way for years to come."

He noted too that it was no accident that Singapore should provide the venue. "Singapore has a 'One China' policy and has close relations with both the mainland and Taiwan. We are linked to both by history, culture and blood."

He lauded the pragmatic approach of the two leaders in agreeing to meet, saying it was good news not just for the Chinese and Taiwanese people but also for Singapore and many people in Asia.

"Better cross-strait relations create better conditions for peaceful development in the entire region," he said.

This article was first published on Nov 5, 2015.
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