Former president Ma to be first Taiwan leader to visit China since 1948
The visit comes in the backdrop of tension between Beijing and Taipei as China rapidly escalates military activity to put pressure over Taiwan
China on Monday welcomed the upcoming visit of former Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou to the mainland later this month, the first time a former or current leader of the island is visiting the country after the defeated Republic of China government fled to the island in 1949.
Ma’s visit, which was announced by his office in Taiwan late on Sunday night, comes in the backdrop of tension between Beijing and Taipei as China rapidly escalates military activity around the self-ruled democracy to put pressure over Taiwan to accept the mainland’s sovereignty.
Calling it a breakaway region, Beijing has never ruled out the use of force to merge it with the mainland.
“The mainland welcomes the visit of Mr. Ma Ying-jeou,” the Communist Party of China’s (CPC), Taiwan Affairs Office said in a statement on Monday.
“Ma Ying-jeou will lead a delegation to the mainland on March 27 to pay homage to his ancestors and exchange ideas,” the statement said.
Ma will pay homage to ancestors ahead of the Qingming or Tomb Sweeping festival when Chinese hold prayer meetings to offer respect to ancestors.
It wasn’t immediately known whether Ma will meet anyone from China’s top leadership; The itinerary published by his office does not involve a visit to Beijing.
Ma Xiaoguang, spokesperson of the mainland’s Taiwan office, said it welcomes Ma to pay homage to his ancestors and lead a student exchange programme.
“The Qingming Festival ancestral worship is a common custom of compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Strait,” the spokesperson said, adding, “We are willing to provide the necessary assistance for Mr. Ma Ying-jeou’s visit and wish him all the best on his trip.”
Former president Ma’s office in Taiwan said that he would visit China from March 27 to April 7 and go to the cities of Nanjing, Wuhan, Changsha, Chongqing and Shanghai, located in central, southwest China and eastern China.
“Ma, who remains a senior member of Taiwan’s Kuomintang (KMT) opposition party, held a landmark meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Singapore in late 2015, shortly before current Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen was elected,” Reuters reported from Taipei.
According to the Ma Ying-jeou Culture and Education Foundation, Ma’s trip to China is “…aimed at worshipping his ancestors during the upcoming Qingming or Tomb Sweeping Festival, and he will lead a delegation comprised of Taiwanese students to make exchanges with their Chinese counterparts, as well as visit historical sites related to the Revolution of 1911 led by Republic of China (ROC) Founding Father Sun Yat-sen, and the Sino-Japanese War from 1937-1945”.
Last month the KMT’s deputy chairman Andrew Hsia visited Beijing and met senior CPC party leader Wang Huning, member of the CPC politburo standing committee.
The visit is likely to be politically milked by the Chinese government, said Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy, assistant professor at National Dong Hwa University in Taiwan
“With Taiwan’s presidential elections coming up early next year, Beijing will seek to instrumentalise the visit of former president Ma to further undermine and interfere in Taiwan’s democracy and put pressure on its democratically elected political leadership,” she told HT over email.
“Beijing already uses a wide range of tools to intimidate Taiwan, in particular through economic coercion. With the elections, however, I expect Beijing to choose to cajole rather than coerce Taiwan, since the end game for Beijing is to take Taiwan, no matter what, no matter who leads it politically,” she said.