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China, Taiwan leaders in historic handshake meeting in Singapore

Chinese President Xi Jinping has told his Taiwanese counterpart that the two sides are 'one family' at a landmark summit in Singapore. The two exchanged a historic handshake and the talks lasted around one hour.

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China, Taiwan leaders join hands at historic summit

"No one can pull us apart," Xi (right photo) told Taiwan's leader Ma Ying-jeou (left photo) on Saturday, at the start of the first bilateral summit between China and Taiwan in nearly 70 years.

While the Chinese president described China and Taiwan as "one family," Ma called for relations to be based on sincerity, wisdom and patience.

"Both sides should respect each other's values and way of life," he said, in an indirect plea for China to recognize Taiwan's democracy.

The talks, which lasted less than an hour, took place in Singapore on Saturday.

It was the first such meeting between the two countries since they split in 1949 at the end of the Chinese Civil War.

The rise of Communist revolutionary leader Mao Zedong following World War II led to China's nationalist President Chiang Kai-shek fleeing to Taiwan - which was then a backwater island province.

No agreements or joint statements were expected from Saturday's encounter between two sides that still refuse to formally recognize each other's legitimacy. The meeting's lasting significance remains to be seen.

Taiwanese are wary

The meeting came ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections in Taiwan and the outcome for Ma's Kuomintang (KMT) party looks bleak amid a rising tide of anti-Beijing sentiment.

According to French news agency AFP, angry protestors attempted to storm the Taiwanese parliament on Saturday, chanting that the "traitor" Ma was heading to meet the "Chinese dictator."

Ma, however, defended his plans to the public ahead of his flight to Singapore, saying "I am here to promise to everyone, we must be doing our best to reach the goal that we set previously, making the Taiwan Strait more peaceful, making the two sides more cooperative."

Trade and land

Bilateral trade was reported to be one of the issues discussed during Saturday's short summit. Tourism has boomed since Ma took office in 2008 and adopted a warmer stance towards mainland China. Many Taiwanese feel that only the elites have prospered from tourism - at the expensive of everyone else.

Also fueling anti-China sentiment is Beijing's aggressive land reclamation and military presence in the South China Sea.

Ahead of the meeting with Ma, Xi Jinping said that freedom of passage in the sea and its valuable trade routes has never been in jeopardy.

After losing the mainland to Mao Zedong's communists, former Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek and his forces fled to the island of Taiwan, and the two have been governed separately ever since. China regards Taiwan as a breakaway province.

mm/jm (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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