Taiwan, China leaders to hold historic meeting in Singapore on Saturday

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The presidents of Taiwan and China will meet in Singapore on Saturday to discuss cross-strait issues, Taiwan's presidential office said, in the first such meeting of leaders from the two sides since the Chinese civil war ended in 1949.

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Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou will fly to Singapore to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the presidential office said in a statement.

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Taiwan, China leaders to hold historic meeting in Singapore on Saturday
Students protesters against a trade pact with China cheer after leaving the legislature in Taipei, Taiwan, Thursday, April 10, 2014. The students ended their unprecedented, 24-day occupation of Taiwan's Parliament late Thursday after receiving assurances that a Chinese trade pact they see as imperiling the island's autonomy would undergo legislative review. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Student protesters against a trade pact with China cheer after leaving after leaving the legislature in Taipei, Taiwan, Thursday, April 10, 2014. The students ended their unprecedented, 24-day occupation of Taiwan's Parliament late Thursday after receiving assurances a Chinese trade pact they see as imperiling the island's autonomy would undergo legislative review. The sign at left reads "false democracy, real dictatorship, Ma(Ying-jeou) Chiang(Yi-huah) step down." (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Student protesters against a Taiwan's trade pact with China continue to occupy the legislature floor in Taipei, Taiwan, Wednesday, April 2, 2014. Students continue their 17-day-old protest voicing their opposition to the trade pact, challenging the president's policy of moving the democratic island economically closer to China. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
Student protesters against a Taiwan's trade pact with China occupy the streets surrounding the legislature in Taipei, Taiwan, Wednesday, April 2, 2014. Students continue their 17-day-old protest voicing their opposition to a trade pact with China, challenging the president's policy of moving the democratic island economically closer to China. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
China's President Xi Jinping attends a meeting of the second Understanding China Conference, in Beijing, China, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015. President Xi Jinping said Tuesday that China needs at least 6.5 percent economic growth in coming years and the Communist Party announced plans to let its tightly controlled yuan trade freely by 2020. (Jason Lee/Pool Photo via AP)
FILE - In this April 15, 2015 file photo, Taiwan's main opposition Democratic Progressive Party Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen speaks in Taipei, Taiwan. The top two political parties in Taiwan have each nominated a woman for president in 2016, a historic first signaling acceptance of female leadership and kicking off a campaign highlighted so far by clashing views on ties with political rival China. Tsai, an advocate of more cautious relations with Beijing, leads in opinion polls ahead of the January 2016 election. (AP Photo/Wally Santana, File)
Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou speaks to foreign media during a press conference in Taipei, Taiwan, Wednesday, April 8, 2015. President Ma said Wednesday that relations with political and military rival China were moving forward despite widespread public opposition that crested with a student occupation of parliament last year. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
FILE - In this April 8, 2015 file photo, Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou speaks to foreign media during a press conference in Taipei, Taiwan. Taiwan's China-friendly president warned his successor Saturday, OCT. 10, 2015, to continue to meet Beijing's condition for dialogue that the two sides see each other as parts of one country, despite growing discontent at home toward the mainland's Communist leadership. President Ma said that maintaining the status quo was necessary to stop relations between Beijing and Taiwan from worsening. The leading candidate in the 2016 presidential race opposes the condition for formal talks and advocates a more guarded approach to relations with Beijing. (AP Photo/Wally Santana, File)
Opposition party supporters scuffle with police as they protest the arrival of Chen Deming, President of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS), upon his arrival at the Taoyuan International Airport in Taoyuan, Taiwan, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014. Chen, China's top negotiator with Taiwan, arrived on Tuesday for his first visit to Taiwan since the major defeat of the pro-China Nationalist Party in island-wide local elections on Nov. 29. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
Demonstrators from the opposition Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) hold placards calling for visiting Chinese envoy Chen Deming to return back to China, during a protest outside the Taipei train station before Chen left for the eastern city of Hualien on December 10, 2014. The visit by Chen, president of China's quasi-official Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, comes amid growing fears about China's increasing influence on the island, which Beijing considers part of its territory. AFP PHOTO / SAM YEH (Photo credit should read SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images)
China's Taiwan envoy Chen Deming (C), president of the quasi-official Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, looks over at protesters rallying against his visit, as he arrives at the Taipei train station before heading to the eastern city of Hualien on December 10, 2014. Chen's visit comes amid growing fears about China's increasing influence on the island, which Beijing considers part of its territory. AFP PHOTO / SAM YEH (Photo credit should read SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images)
China's Taiwan envoy Chen Deming (C), president of the quasi-official Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, is surrounded by the security staffs upon arriving at Taoyuan airport on December 9, 2014. The visit comes after Taiwan's Beijing-friendly Kuomintang party suffered a resounding defeat in key local elections in November. AFP PHOTO / SAM YEH (Photo credit should read SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images)
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The meeting comes at a politically sensitive time in Taiwan, with elections for a new president and legislature being held on Jan. 16.

China's Taiwan Affairs Office said in a statement: "The mainland's attitude on a meeting between leaders from both sides of the Taiwan Strait is positive and consistent. If there is news on this, we will issue it in a timely manner."

The purpose of Ma's trip was to "consolidate cross-strait peace and maintain the status quo", his office said. Ma would not sign any agreements, nor issue any joint statements with China during the trip, it added.

Taiwan's cabinet would meet with leaders of parliament and the island's political parties on Wednesday to discuss the trip.

Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, the island's top China policymaking body, will hold a press conference on Wednesday, while Ma will hold a news briefing on Thursday, the presidential office said.

Ma's pro-China Nationalist Party, known as the Kuomintang (KMT), is trailing in opinion polls behind the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which traditionally favors independence and is loathed by the Chinese Communist Party.

Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists fled to Taiwan following their defeat by Mao Zedong's Communists at the end of the Chinese civil war.

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Since then Taiwan has been self-ruled, but China deems the island a breakaway province to be taken back, by force if necessary, particularly if it makes moves toward independence.

Previous Chinese attempts to influence Taiwan's elections have backfired.

In 1996, then-Chinese President Jiang Zemin ordered live fire missile tests and war games in the seas around Taiwan to try and intimidate voters not to back Lee Teng-hui, who China believed was moving the island closer to formal independence.

The crisis brought the two sides to the verge of conflict and prompted the United States to sail a carrier task force through the Taiwan Strait in a warning to Beijing.

Lee won the election by a landslide.

In March this year, Ma flew to Singapore to pay his respects after the death of the city-state's first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, a diplomatically sensitive visit given China's stance that Taiwan is a renegade province.

China, which maintains a good relationship with Singapore, holds that there is only "One China" and Taiwan is part of it.

However, Singapore also maintains a close, informal relationship with Taiwan and the two signed a free trade pact in 2013.

(Editing by Dean Yates)

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