Taipei (AsiaNews/Agencies) - For the first time since 1949, a Taiwanese president has shaken the hand of a leader from Beijing. The historic meeting took place today between Ma Ying-jeou and Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin, head of relations with the strait. A large security force was deployed around the site of the encounter, to prevent attacks on the part of anti-Beijing activists.
Until now, relations between China and Taiwan had been maintained among businessmen and party figures, but had not directly involved the president of Taiwan, a post that China does not acknowledge because it considers Taiwan a rebel island to be restored to the mainland. Ma Ying-jeou, the third democratically elected president of the island, decided to implement a more cordial policy with China, unlike his predecessor Chen Shuibian, detested by Beijing because of his pro-independence aims.
The meeting lasted less than 10 minutes, during which Ma and Chen exchanged gifts. Chen gave the president of Taiwan a painting depicting a horse ("ma" in Chinese, with a sound similar to the president's name). Ma's gift was a porcelain vase.
At the meeting, which was broadcast on television, Ma also gave a short speech in which he praised the "major step forward for cross-strait ties."
Chen arrived in Taiwan on November 3, for a five-day visit to sign economic agreements and reinforce the air, postal, and naval ties between the island and China.
"The development fits the expectations of the people of both sides and will contribute to cross-strait stability and prosperity," Ma said. "But we cannot deny that differences and challenges still exist, such as Taiwan's security and Taiwan's position in the international community. In the future both sides should see the reality and should not deny each other's existence in order to promote the welfare of the people and cross-strait peace and to resolve our differences."
Not far from the location of the meeting, hundreds of people had gathered to protest the presence of Chen, and against what they call the "selling out" of Taiwan to China, which is to the advantage of Taiwanese businessmen but not that of all the people. The protests were organized by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which supports the independence of the island.
So far, China has always threatened invasion, and has 800 missiles pointed against the island in case it should declare independence. Taiwan, which does not have a seat at the UN, is recognized by only 23 countries. Despite the precarious state of its diplomacy, Taiwan is the only fully democratic Chinese region, with an economy that is among the largest in the world.