Former Taiwan president Ma open to meeting leaders on landmark China trip

Former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou attends an event in Taipei

Former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou attends an event in Taipei, Taiwan May 15, 2018. (REUTERS FILE PHOTO)

TAIPEI — Former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou is “at his host’s disposal” when it comes to meetings with senior leaders during a trip to China this month, but there are no plans for him to visit Beijing, a senior official from Ma’s office said on Monday.

Ma will be the first former or current Taiwanese president to visit China since the defeated Republic of China government fled to Taiwan in 1949 at the end of a civil war with the Communists, where it remains to this day.

The trip comes at a time of heightened tensions between Beijing and Taipei as China keeps up its military and political pressure to try and get democratically-elected Taiwan to accept Chinese sovereignty.

Ma met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Singapore in late 2015 shortly before now Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen won a presidential election.

Ma Ying-jeou Foundation director Hsiao Hsu-tsen told reporters that the March 27-April 7 is mostly about student exchanges and to pay respects to the graves of Ma’s ancestors in China.

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

He would not rule out meetings with senior officials when asked if Ma might have another get together with Xi.

“As guests, we are at our hosts’ disposal.”

Taiwan’s government has yet to comment on the trip, which will see Ma talk to students, visit sites connected to World War Two and China’s conflict with Japan as well as those related to the 1911 revolution which overthrew the last Chinese emperor and ushered in the Republic of China.

Given that neither Taiwan nor China’s governments recognise each other, Ma will simply be referred to as “Mr. Ma Ying-jeou” while he is in China, Hsiao said, to avoid thorny political issues.

Ma is a senior member of Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), which traditionally favours close ties with China though strongly denies being pro-Beijing.

The KMT says outreach to China is needed now more than ever given the tensions across the Taiwan Strait.

“He believes that the two sides have entered an icebound state in recent years. If young people can communicate and have dialogue, it will definitely reduce the current tensions,” Hsiao said of Ma’s thoughts on the visit.

China has rebuffed Tsai’s repeated calls for talks, believing her to be a separatist. She says only Taiwan’s people can decide their future.


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First posted March 19, 10:51 pm