Why Xi Jinping Is Meeting With Taiwan’s Ex-President

When China’s leader, Xi Jinping, and then-President Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan shook hands in Singapore back in 2015, they each extolled their meeting — the first top-level talks between the rival governments — as a breakthrough that could pave the way to a durable peace, ending decades of enmity.

But on Wednesday, as the two men met again in Beijing, the prospects for an amicable settlement over Taiwan’s future seemed more distant than ever.

Mr. Ma, who pursued closer engagement with China during his eight years in office, is no longer president of Taiwan. Fewer and fewer Taiwanese people now share his belief that Taiwan must see its future as a part of a greater China.

Since Mr. Ma left office in 2016, Mr. Xi has frozen high-level contacts with Taiwan, sought to isolate it on the global stage and tried to intimidate it with a tightening military presence around the island. Mr. Xi is profoundly suspicious of Taiwan’s current leadership, which has sought to assert the sovereignty of the island democracy.

Chinese state television confirmed on Wednesday that Mr. Xi and Mr. Ma were meeting, but gave no details. Earlier in the day, Eric Chu, the chairman of the Nationalist Party, which Mr. Ma belongs to, told reporters in Taipei that the event would be “a very important step in promoting peaceful exchanges across the strait.”

For Beijing, Mr. Xi’s meeting with Mr. Ma is part of a strategy to set its terms for dealing with Taiwan’s next leader: the president-elect, Lai Ching-te, whom Beijing describes as a dangerous separatist.

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