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Pool Photo via AP, Jason Lee
FILE - In this Nov. 3, 2015 file photo, China's President Xi Jinping attends a meeting of the second Understanding China Conference, in Beijing, China. Xi Jinping will meet Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou n Singapore on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015, to exchange ideas about relations between the two sides but not sign any deals, presidential spokesman Charles Chen said in a statement.

BEIJING — China confirmed Wednesday that President Xi Jinping will meet this weekend with Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou in a historic first culminating nearly eight years of quickly improved relations between the two sides.

News of the meeting Saturday in Singapore from the Chinese Cabinet's Taiwan Affairs Office came hours after the Taiwanese side announced the meeting earlier Wednesday.

The two would be meeting in their capacity as "leaders of the two sides" of the Taiwan Strait, office director Zhang Zhijun was quoted as saying in a news release posted on the office's website.

That appeared to afford them equal status, possibly an effort to blunt criticism from the pro-independence opposition in Taiwan who accuse Ma's Nationalist Party of pandering to China's ruling Communists.

"This is pragmatic arrangement given the situation of the irresolution of cross-strait political differences and one on the of the one-China principle," Zhang said.

Presidents of the two sides have not met since Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists lost the Chinese civil war to Mao Zedong's Communists and the Nationalists rebased in Taiwan 160 kilometers (100 miles) away in 1949. The two sides have been separately ruled since then with Taiwan evolving into a freewheeling democracy.

China insists that the two sides eventually reunite, by force if necessary.

The two sides never talked formally until Ma, the Nationalist president since 2008, lay aside old hostilities to set up lower-level official meetings. China and Taiwan have signed 23 deals covering mainly trade, transit and investment, binding Taiwan closer to its top trading partner and the world's second-largest economy.

Taiwanese presidential spokesman Charles Chen said in a statement Wednesday that the two would meet Singapore to exchange ideas about relations between the two sides but not sign any deals.

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Associated Press writer Ralph Jennings in Taipei contributed to this report.