Why are most Singaporean Chinese not Chinese

Historic meeting in Singapore

As announced at short notice, every detail of the Singapore meeting was evidently carefully prepared. As a Mandarin-speaking, ethnic Chinese-dominated country, the city-state provided both sides with a suitably neutral setting. The background for the historical handshake was a bright yellow wall - the classic color of the Chinese emperors. Both heads of state like to refer to Chinese history.

Taiwan's Ma Ying-jeou came in from the left. His tie: blue like the coat of arms of his Kuomintang party, which China once united in the turmoil of the 20th century and then lost. Xi Jinping, standing from the right, wore red, of course. Her handshake in the flash of flashlights lasted well over a minute. It almost seemed as if Ma hardly wanted to let go of the hand that he could finally take. For years he had hoped for this encounter, which would secure him international attention and a place in the history books. But Xi had put him off again and again if Taiwan's government did not want to give legitimation, since from the perspective of the People's Republic it is not a government, but rather a provincial administration.

Every word is put on the gold scales

When they both spoke up, it was one of those occasions when every word is weighed on the gold scales. It had been known for days that they would simply address themselves as "Mr." instead of using official titles. Some observers in Taiwan were surprised that Ma avoided mentioning the "Republic of China". It is precisely this state, which has perished on the mainland and which still exists in Taiwan, that forms the link on which Ma, in cooperation with Xi and his predecessor Hu Jintao, has been able to hang up their rapprochement policy since 2008. Politically, Taiwan is not "Taiwan", but a state that, at least according to the constitution, still represents all of China.

Historic moment: The presidents of both countries start talks with their delegations.

So no republic or people's republic, no national flags. Instead, the heads of state resorted to motives of Chinese nationalism. Both sides are part of a family, blood relatives, united by thousands of years of Chinese history and culture. It is about the renewal of the "Chinese nation". All of this has actually been said many times. After all, it wasn't the first meeting between the two sides, just the first top-level meeting. Since 2005, KMT officials have been visiting the Communist Party in Beijing on a regular basis, after the 2008 Mas election semi-official negotiators were sent back and forth, and in 2014 government representatives officially met for the first time in the form of the responsible ministers.

One China principle without restrictions

But when heads of state meet, every word has a special meaning. When mentioning the "one China principle" as the basis of relations, for example, Ma left it with "one China" and saved Xi from having to add "... with different interpretations", which was actually inevitable in his speeches. Just so as not to overemphasize the existence of his Republic of China - or is this a change of course, a surrender of political positions in favor of Beijing? Such questions will occupy the political talk show rounds in Taiwan for days.

Taiwan's largest opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which is likely to take over the presidency and perhaps even the parliamentary majority in the January 16 elections, has also listened closely. Party leader and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen said she was disappointed with the meeting in the evening. Ma did not mention the existence of the Republic of China or the right of Taiwanese to determine their own future - both are part of his standard repertoire in Taiwan.

Protests against rapprochement: Taiwanese protest in Taipei against rapprochement between the two states.

Tsai is currently working hard not to be seen as the irresponsible "separatist" that Beijing would like to make of her. She did not reject the Singapore meeting in principle, only criticized the secret preparation without the involvement of parliament. She promised that if she won the election she would not revoke any agreements with China and not change the constitution, the state name or the national flag. And she hadn't called for protests against the meeting.

Protests are limited

Smaller groups of demonstrators took to the streets in Taipei today. Political protests have been almost the order of the day in Taipei since 2014 when students occupied parliament for almost four weeks, and there was little sense of any particular excitement.

Tsai could even imagine meeting Xi as well. It is questionable whether this will happen, because Tsai does not use the term "One China" in his mouth. This would cross a red line of their supporters.

Really high-profile announcements were left on both sides after Ma and Xi ended their ongoing closed-door meeting. In Taiwan, Ma's hands are tied for political agreements. Most people here regard him as a "lame duck" due to his poor popularity and a remaining term of just six months.

Xi also needs positive headlines

And for Xi, too, the meeting was primarily about producing positive headlines for a change. Because that the 23 million inhabitants on the island, despite economic rapprochement, are increasingly developing their own identity, that most of them see themselves as "Taiwanese" and only very few as pure "Chinese", that is also known in Beijing. "This meeting is a desperate attempt to turn things around at the last minute," said Taiwan expert William Stanton.

William Stanton, former US representative in Taiwan

The political professor was head of the American Institute in Taipei from 2009 to 2012, in the absence of diplomatic relations, so to speak, US ambassador, and still lives on the island today. "Xi wants to save his failed Taiwan policy," said Stanton. With his anti-corruption offensive, Xi has made many enemies in China and needs positive headlines.

Concrete progress reported was the establishment of a "hot line" for direct contact between the two sides and Beijing's assurance that Taiwan would not obstruct Taiwan’s path to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, China’s alternative to the World Bank. In addition, China wants to help Taiwan open up more international scope - that should be feasible, as this isolation only exists because of the claims of the People's Republic itself.

"Missiles are not aimed at Taiwan"

In the run-up, there had been speculation about whether Xi would unilaterally announce as a surprise coup that the more than 1,000 rockets that are permanently stationed in southeast China, within reach of Taiwan, would be withdrawn. For the Taiwanese, nothing else symbolizes more clearly China's threatening backdrop, which is maintained parallel to the rapprochement policy. It didn't come to that. He raised the issue, Ma said after the meeting. And Xi replied: The rockets were not aimed at Taiwan at all.

Opponent 70 years ago: Kuomintag leader Chiang Kai Schek meets Mao Zedong (r.)

A few months ago, pictures on Chinese television showed that China places great value on knowing its military in Taiwan is seen as a threat. Soldiers rehearsed the storm on a clear replica of the Taipei presidential palace. "A serious mistake" was the repeated broadcast of these images, said William Stanton. Beijing would only have deterred more Taiwanese. "The idea of ​​pushing Taiwan around is a shame. And no other country has protested."

After the meeting in Singapore, there is so far no reason why Xi Jinping will fundamentally change anything in this dual strategy of economic incentives and military deterrence. The big question remains: How is China reacting to the increasingly likely change in power in Taipei?