Ma Ying-jeou’s tour is first since end of civil war and comes amid intensifying efforts by China to subsume Taiwan
Taiwan’s former president Ma Ying-jeou will visit China this month in the first visit by a current or former leader since the defeated Nationalist Chinese government fled to the island at the end of the civil war in 1949.
The high-profile visit has been presented by Ma and his party, the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), as a chance to boost friendly cross-strait exchanges at a time of extreme disconnection, which has been driven by Beijing’s plans to annex Taiwan and exacerbated by the pandemic. However, it is also likely to fuel domestic political division between the KMT and ruling Democratic Progressive party (DPP) over relations with China.
Ma’s office said the trip was scheduled for 27 March to 7 April, with stops in Nanjing, Wuhan, Changsha, Chongqing and Shanghai. However, local media reported Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council had not yet received a report about the planned trip, as required of former presidents.
The visit by Ma, who served as president of the Republic of China – Taiwan’s formal name – from 2008 to 2016, comes amid increasing efforts by Beijing to have Taiwan subsumed into the People’s Republic of China as a province. Through military and diplomatic pressure, Beijing hopes to achieve what it calls “reunification” peacefully, but has not ruled out using force. Taiwan’s people and government – both the ruling DPP and the KMT party, now in opposition – reject the prospect of Chinese rule.
Representatives for Ma, and the KMT party, have emphasised the trip’s purpose as one of ancestor worship – a traditional Chinese practice of paying respect to deceased ancestors – and strengthening non-government and student exchanges between Taiwan and China.
“Former president Ma believes that young people on both sides of the strait understand each other,” said Hsiao Hsu-tsen, the executive director of the Ma Ying-jeou Foundation. Hsiao said such exchanges were increasingly urgent given the hostilities between the two governments.
“The more contact between students, the more friendship between the two sides. The deeper the friendship, the lower the chance of conflicts.”
The KMT party is a proponent of friendlier ties with China, but opposes reunification and denies it is pro-Beijing. The DPP, led by Tsai Ing-wen in her second and final presidential term, has been labelled “separatists” by Beijing.
Ma’s proposed visit will occur around the same time that Tsai is scheduled to visit the US and is expected to meet the US speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy. That visit, confirmed earlier this month, is expected to aggrieve Beijing, which opposes any act that could lend legitimacy to Taiwan’s sovereignty. After the former US speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan last year, the People’s Liberation Army surrounded the main island with days of live fire military exercises.
Ma’s planned visit prompted headlines and debate in Taiwan ahead of a presidential election early next year and coming shortly after a controversial visit to Beijing by the KMT’s deputy chair, Andrew Hsia, in February. Hsia was accused by members of the ruling DPP of “courting the Communists”.
The delegation would also visit sites related to the second world war, the 1911 revolution, and the Sino-Japanese war, Ma’s representatives said. Hsiao would not rule out Ma meeting senior Chinese officials.
“The trip is to central China, we have not arranged to go to Beijing,” Hsiao said. “As guests, we are at our hosts’ disposal.”
The Taiwan Policy Centre, a Taiwan-based thinktank, said the visit raised questions about whether Ma “represents a relevant and appreciated voice for either the party or the nation on [cross-straits policy]”, and warned against any attempt to conduct “unofficial ‘united front’ negotiations on state to state matters”.
Source: The Guardian