Why then, just two months ahead of presidential and legislative elections, would Mr. Ma backtrack and agree to dine with the one man who presents the greatest threat to Taiwan’s democratic and open society?

The answer is simple. Mr. Ma knows that his party, the Kuomintang, or KMT, is very likely to not only lose the presidency on Jan. 16, but also, in a historical first, lose control of Parliament, putting power in the hands of politicians better attuned to voters’ anti-reunification sentiments. Both Mr. Ma and his counterpart in China are desperate to make a last-minute deal that would give the KMT a fighting chance to retain its grip on Taiwan’s legislature.

It is not wild speculation to conclude that the only circumstances under which the meeting between Mr. Ma and Mr. Xi could possibly have come about is one in which Mr. Xi offers a concession to Taiwan’s departing president in the hope that it leads to continued KMT control of Taiwan.