Presidents and prime ministers do not usually campaign in other countries' elections. But Xi Jinping, the Chinese President, has in effect endorsed the governing party of Taiwan by meeting its departing leader in another country, Singapore.
The election doesn't take place until January, but this gesture has probably come too late. Ma Ying-jeou's party, the relatively pro-unification Kuomintang – which was once the governing party of China itself – is running behind the Democratic Progressive Party, most of whose voters would prefer independence for Taiwan.
The two presidents diplomatically addressed each other as "Mr.," as if to leave open their respective statuses, but Mr. Ma did not prevail upon Mr. Xi to consent to Taiwanese participation in international organizations. So nothing concrete was really achieved.
Although there is a huge amount of trade between China and Taiwan and much mutually profitable Taiwanese investment into China, Taiwan is essentially defended by the U.S. Navy. So the Strait of Taiwan is one of the most dangerous fault lines in the world's international order.
Being on the Pacific Rim, Taiwan would naturally like to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, to enhance economic relations with its neighbours. For some Western policy-makers, the main purpose of the TPP is a "grand strategy" to help contain China and maintain an American hegemony. But an "economic NATO," as some people have called the TPP, would heighten international conflict.
It would be much better if the next phase of the TPP includes China and Taiwan – if indeed there is a next phase, and assuming that the present version of the TPP legislation gets through the U.S. Congress in the first place. Taiwan is more than willing.
In the best of all possible worlds, or even somewhere far short of that, China would or could welcome Taiwan as a fellow member in the TPP. But if China did not join the trade deal, Beijing would probably put serious pressure on Taiwan not to join it either.
Xi Jinping may not have accomplished anything specific with the historic meeting – the first between the two countries' leaders since 1949 – but he demonstrated a sense of versatility while also reminding the world of China's interests in the region.