China welcomes former Taiwan president’s plan to visit

Ma Ying-jeou becomes the first former or current leader of Taiwan to visit China since 1949.

Beijing has welcomed a plan by former Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou of the self-governed island’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), to visit China.

A Chinese government spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office said officials will provide Ma with any assistance he needs, the state-run Global Times reported Tuesday.

Ma, who led the self-governing island from 2008 to 2016, plans to visit China from March 27 to April 7, becoming the first former Taiwanese leader to visit China since the Nationalist government moved to Taipei at the end of the civil war in 1949 . .

The director of the Ma Ying-jeou Foundation, Hsiao Hsu-tsen, told reporters that Ma’s trip was mainly about student exchanges and that the former president paid homage to his ancestors’ graves in China.

“The trip is to central China, we have not agreed to go to Beijing,” Hsiao said.

He did not rule out meetings with senior officials when asked if Ma could meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, although he added that they had not counted on it.

“As guests, we are at the disposal of our hosts,” Hsiao said.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office noted that paying respect to ancestors was a “shared tradition” for people on both sides of the strait and that student exchanges had the potential to “re-energize peaceful development across the strait”.

The visit comes amid heightened tensions in the Taiwan Strait as Beijing ramps up pressure on Taiwan, which it considers part of its territory. Beijing regards Tsai Ing-wen, who succeeded Ma as president and returned to office in a landslide in 2020, as a “separatist” who wants the island’s independence.

Reports say Tsai will fly to the United States at about the same time Ma leaves for China and is expected to meet Speaker of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy, breaking an unspoken rule that Taiwanese presidents should not allow U.S. officials in the visit the US itself.

The KMT positions itself as the Taiwanese party that has the best working relationship with Beijing.

The Vice Chairman, Andrew Hsia, visited China in February – his second trip in six months – where he met some of China’s top leaders. Controversially, he also traveled there in August 2022, when tensions between Beijing and Taiwan rose to their highest point in 25 years after former US president Nancy Pelosi visited the island.

Taiwan’s next presidential election is scheduled for January next year, and the KMT hopes its promises of a less fraught relationship with Beijing will appeal to voters who may have had enough of the political tension.

After completing two terms, Tsai can no longer run.

Vice President William Lai announced this month that he would be running in the primary to become the party’s presidential nominee. Lai, the chairman of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, reiterated the party’s position on China when announcing his candidacy.

“We must be united to strengthen Taiwan, stick to the democratic camp and ensure Taiwan’s security,” despite increasing Chinese “rattling” and “unscrupulous diplomatic intimidation,” he said.