Compared to relative silence on the mainland, Taiwanese newspapers Wednesday were dominated by the surprise announcement of the upcoming historic encounter between Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou and the Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Taipei-based daily China Timesfeatured a photomontage of the two leaders, with the headline "Ma and Xi To Officially Meet — Time: Nov. 7 — Venue: Singapore."
There is both history and current electoral politics at stake in the meeting. President Ma's Kuomintang nationalist party, led by Chiang Kai-shek, fled to Taiwan after losing the Chinese civil war in 1949. The Chinese Communist Party and the Nationalist party of Taiwan, which it officially calls the Republic of China (ROC), both claim to be the sole representative of China. Taiwan's opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) favors the recognition of the PRC as a sovereign country. It is unclear whether certain crucial questions, like China's estimated 2,000 missiles aimed at Taiwan, will be on the agenda.
"The two leaders are meeting now because both sides must confront internal and external changes," Zhao Chunshan, professor of Mainland China studies at Taiwan's Tamkang University told the Central News Agency of Taiwan. "Taiwan is holding a presidential election on Jan. 16. The issues concerning the "One China principle," and the maintenance of the status quo have caused huge debate."
Zhao also said that the geopolitical questions in the region, such as the South China Sea and East China Sea disputes, economic and trade issues such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement "also concern both countries' relations."
Ending his final year of office in his second and last mandate of four years, President Ma has been struggling with a 9% approval rating for the last two years ago. Last night upon hearing the news, Ke Chien-ming, a DPP leader in parliament criticized Ma. "How is a lame duck president, with half a year of his term left to run, able to represent Taiwan?"
Commentators debated the potential effect of President Ma's unexpected move on Taiwan's upcoming presidential election. And yet unlike such widespread coverage and analysis in Taiwan, on the Chinese side, only Xinhua News Agency published a standard press release about the Ma-Xi meeting. The text refers to Ma and Xi as "the two leaders of both sides of the strait," making sure to avoid the Taiwanese president's title.