China still considers Taiwan as less than equal despite epic handshake
SINGAPORE, Singapore – The first meeting between the leaders of China and Taiwan since their 1949 civil war division was expected to produce a dramatic handshake – but no one thought it would last 81 seconds.
The marathon grip-and-grin between China's Xi Jinping and Taiwan's Ma Ying-jeou took place amid a barrage of camera flashes from a rapt scrum of reporters clamoring to capture the historic summit's start.
There was an audible intake of breath from journalists as the two entered a ballroom of a Singapore luxury hotel.
Xi – whose Communist regime rules over a vastly larger economy and considers Taiwan a rogue province – came to a halt first, forcing Ma to take an extra step forward.
The two smiled – Ma beaming broadly while Xi was more reserved with mouth closed – and kept their hands locked.
"It felt very good. We both shook hands with a lot of strength," Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou later told a news conference.
As the seconds ticked along, the shake continued as the pair rotated to give different parts of the room a better view.
Earlier there had been chaotic scenes as journalists argued over positioning, some chanting "move back," in unison.
Despite both sticking to a carefully worded policy that there is only "one China," Taiwan and China differ over a range of issues including when the country was founded, and also use different Chinese characters.
Not quite equal
The two leaders shook hands before a blank backdrop of yellow apparently to help avoid such sensitivities.
As the cameras whirred and shouts of "give us a wave" rang out, a minute passed, and another 21 seconds before the two finally broke their grip and began to wave side-by-side.
Ma paused to undo his jacket button, giving him a more casual appearance.
"Why did I open my jacket, because otherwise it would get very tight when I raise my hand," he later told reporters.
Despite the elaborate summit choreography, China made clear that it still considers Taiwan as less than equal.
When the two sat down for talks across a table, flanked by other officials, it was Xi who spoke first.
Ma, a democratic politician used to interacting with the public, held his own relaxed press conference afterward.
But Xi, who like all Chinese Communist leaders does not do off-the-cuff encounters, sent a lower-level official to face the media on his behalf.
And while Ma left the hotel from its front entrance, pausing to wave to dozens of gathered reporters, Xi apparently exited in secret.
Referring to the handshake at the start of the hour-long, mostly closed-door meeting with Xi, Ma said:
"We crossed 66 years of space and time to stretch out our hands and shake them together, holding in our hands the past and future of both sides of the (Taiwan) strait." – Rappler.com