China’s Xi tells ex-Taiwan leader both sides are inseparable

Chinese President Xi Jinping maintained during his meeting with former Taiwanese leader Ma Ying-jeou in Beijing that people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are inseparable and praised him for opposing the island’s independence, according to Chinese and Taiwanese media.

Their second talks, following a historic cross-strait summit in 2015 in Singapore, came ahead of the May 20 inauguration of Taiwan’s President-elect Lai Ching-te, who China sees as an independence advocate.

Ma belongs to the opposition Nationalist Party, also known as the Kuomintang (KMT), which calls for dialogue with the mainland. He shook hands with Xi for 16 seconds, and the two used “Mr.” to address each other.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and former Taiwanese leader Ma Ying-jeou. (Kyodo)

In his opening remarks at the Great Hall of the People in the Chinese capital, Xi appreciated Ma’s promotion of the peaceful development of cross-strait relations and said that compatriots on both sides of the strait belong to the same Chinese nation.

There is “no force that can separate us,” he added, in an apparent warning to Taiwan’s ruling, independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party headed by Lai and the United States, which helps the island maintain self-defense capabilities through unofficial ties.

Xi said compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Strait must “resolutely oppose ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist activities and interference from external forces,” according to China’s official Xinhua News Agency.

The Chinese leader also expressed condolences over a deadly quake that hit Taiwan a week ago, which killed 16 people and injured more than 1,100.

Ma underlined the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, saying if a war breaks out, it will cause “an unbearable burden” on both sides.

“Chinese people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait definitely have enough wisdom to peacefully handle cross-strait disputes and avoid heading into conflict,” he said.

The former Taiwan leader, who served between 2008 and 2016, has been on the mainland since April 1. Beijing considers Taiwan its territory and aims to bring the self-ruled democratic island into its fold by force if necessary.

Cross-strait relations deteriorated after the DPP’s Tsai Ing-wen replaced Ma. China has shunned talks with the DPP government and increased military pressure on the island.

During their previous talks in 2015, Xi and Ma agreed to uphold the so-called 1992 consensus between China’s Communist Party and the KMT, an unwritten agreement that there is only one China and that each side can interpret that in their own way. The DPP government rejects this idea.

Last year, Ma became the first former Taiwanese leader to visit the mainland since the two sides split in 1949 due to a civil war. This time, he has been leading a delegation, including students, in China and arrived in Beijing on Sunday after visiting Guangzhou and Shaanxi provinces.

Taiwanese media initially reported that Ma may hold talks with Xi on Monday but later pointed to the possibility of them being pushed back to coincide with a summit Wednesday in Washington between U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

Both Japan and the United States have strengthened exchanges with Taiwan despite their lack of official diplomatic relations amid China’s increasing military assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region.

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