In a press conference earlier today, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou revealed that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping will just go ahead and call each other “Mister,” in a joint decision meant to achieve “equality and dignity” in their historic summit on Saturday. After all, what’s the use of official titles between buddies.
Here’s how he explained the delicate protocol to reporters, via HKFP:
The two sides will not use their official names or official titles in the meeting. For the first time the interaction will be carried out using the name of a Taiwanese and mainland leader. [We] will call each other ‘Mr’ instead of using titles. This way [we] can achieve real equality and dignity.
It shows the two sides are flexible and pragmatic in dealing with cross-strait affairs. It also adheres to our long-held principle of ‘mutual non-recognition of sovereignty and mutual non-denial of governing authority.
Ma’s stance echoes a statement released by Xinhua yesterday on how best to navigate this dangerous linguistic minefield. Previously, the CCP has been reluctant to meet with a Taiwanese leader for fear that the meeting might legitimize the government there, with just a inappropriate honorific.
“This is a practical arrangement under the principle of ‘One China,’ due to the situation that the two sides’ political disagreements have not yet been completely resolved,” Xinhua said. “It reflects the shelving of disputes and the spirit of mutual respect.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, these kind of rhetorical issues may seem minor, but they have serious consequences. A long-anticipated meeting between China’s and Taiwan’s cultural ministers was scrapped last year due to disagreement over what to call each other.
The summit will be held in Singapore’s Shangri-La Hotel on Saturday and will mark the first time that Chinese and Taiwanese top leaders have met in 66 years, since members of the Chinese Nationalist Party fled to the island of Taiwan at the end of its civil war with the Chinese Communist Party in 1949.
It will be a 20-minute closed door meeting starting at 3 p.m. on Saturday. Then at 4:30 p.m., two separate press conferences will be held and each side will issue a statement. Ma said that the statements will only mention things that the two sides agree on, so maybe you’ll only have to watch one.
After their historic meeting, the two will enjoy dinner together and even split the check.
“It’s not about who will be whose guest at the dinner, but about having dinner together,” said Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Deputy Minister Wu Mei-hung.
According to Ma, the purpose of the summit will be to “reduce hostility” as well to “expand economic cooperation.” It will also be the first step toward holding regular meetings between cross-strait leaders.
He maintained that there will be no agreements signed, no joint-statements issued and no promises made at the meeting.
At the press conference, Ma also responded to his opponents who criticized the sudden announcement and the “sneaky” nature of the summit. He said that the meeting was decided upon a month ago and was the natural result of improving cross-relations in recent years.
With all the mutual respect in the air, we can only assume that the long-awaited meeting will go something like this: