China welcomes former Taiwan president’s plan to visit Politics news

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

Beijing has welcomed former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou of the main opposition Kuomintang party on the self-ruled island to visit China.

A Chinese government spokesperson told the Taiwan Affairs Office that officials will provide Ma with any assistance he needs, the state-run Global Times reported on 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 leader of Taiwan to visit China since the Nationalist government moved to Taipei at the end of the civil war in 1949.

Ma Ying-jeou Hsiao Hsu-tsien, director of the Foundation, told reporters that Ma’s trip was mostly about student exchanges, and that the former president is honoring the graves of his ancestors in China.

“The trip is to central China, and we haven’t arranged to go to Beijing,” Hsiao said.

He did not rule out meetings with senior officials when asked if he would meet Chinese President Xi Jinping, though he added that they had not expected to.

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

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office pointed out that respecting ancestors was a “common tradition” of people on both sides of the Strait and that student exchange has the potential to “inject new energy into the peaceful development across the Straits.”

The visit comes amid rising tensions across the Taiwan Strait as Beijing steps 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 by a landslide in 2020, as a ‘separatist’ who wants independence for the island.

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Reports say Tsai will fly to the US at the same time Ma is in China and is expected to meet House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, breaking an unspoken rule that Taiwanese presidents do not visit US officials in the US itself.

The KMT positions itself as the party of Taiwan with the best working relationship with Beijing.

Its vice president, Andrew Hsia, visited China in February — his second visit in six months — where he met some of China’s top leaders. Controversially, he also traveled there in August 2022 as tensions between Beijing and Taiwan rose to their highest levels in 25 years after former US President Nancy Pelosi paid a visit to the island.

Taiwan’s next presidential election is due in January next year, and the KMT is hoping its promises of a less strained relationship with Beijing will prove attractive to voters who may have tired of the political tension.

After completing two terms, Tsai will not be able to run again.

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

“We must unite to strengthen Taiwan, adhere to the democratic camp, and ensure Taiwan’s security” in the face of China’s increasing “rattling of swords” and “unscrupulous diplomatic bullying,” he said.

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