President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is to hold talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) on Saturday in Singapore, the first meeting of leaders from the two nations since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949.
The two governments announced the meeting, which comes just weeks ahead of the Jan. 16 presidential and legislative elections, just before midnight on Tuesday.
The announcement came just about an hour after the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times' sister newspaper) reported on its Web site that a meeting had been arranged for Saturday, when Xi is in Singapore for his first official visit to the city-state.
The official announcement said that Ma and Xi would discuss cross-strait ties, but would not sign any agreements, nor issue any joint statements.
The Presidential Office yesterday said the purpose of Ma’s trip to Singapore was to "maintain the ‘status quo.’"
It also said that Ma would hold an international news conference tomorrow morning to explain the meeting to the public.
China's Taiwan Affairs Office Minister Zhang Zhijun (張志軍) said the two men are expected to have dinner after their meeting and would address each other as "mister," according to the Xinhua news agency.
The meeting came about after Chinese and Taiwanese officials met in Guangzhou, China, last month, Zhang added, referring to his meeting with Mainland Affairs Council Minister Andrew Hsia (夏立言) on Oct. 14.
At the time, that meeting was expected to be the last high-level cross-strait interaction of Ma’s final term in office.
The surprise announcement stunned the nation, and while the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) hailed the move, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) yesterday said the manner in which the meeting was announced had damaged democracy.
"I believe people across the country, like me, felt very surprised," she told reporters.
"A meeting of the leaders of the two sides across the [Taiwan] Strait is a great event, involving the dignity and national interests of Taiwan, but to let the public know in such a hasty and chaotic manner is damaging to Taiwan's democracy," she said.
DPP spokesman Cheng Yun-peng (鄭運鵬)said the timing of the meeting was suspect.
"How can people not think of this as a political operation intended to affect the election?" he said.
Cheng said that cross-strait issues are beyond the consideration of political parties, and no political maneuvers should be involved. He said that the timing of meeting gave the impression of a political maneuver.
The meeting also goes against Ma's promise that such a summit would only occur when the nation needs it, the public supports it and the legislature supervises its process, Cheng added.
Presidential Office Secretary-General Tseng Yung-chuan (曾永權) yesterday said that Ma was willing to report to lawmakers after his Singapore trip, if invited by the Legislative Yuan to do so.
Tseng made the comments after he and Premier Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) briefed Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) on the upcoming meeting.
Wang said that he was not aware of the Ma-Xi meeting until reporters telephoned him for comments late last night.
Wang said the legislature supports any dialog between Taipei and Beijing that strengthens peaceful development across the Taiwan Strait and stabilizes the regional situation, but that any such discussions should be conducted on an equal footing.