Former Taiwan president to make historic visit to China

Former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou will visit China this month, marking the first visit to a communist country by a sitting or retired Taiwanese president.

The 10-day trip, which began on March 27, will reveal sharp divisions between Taiwan’s two main political parties over relations with China as they prepare to campaign for next January’s presidential and parliamentary elections.

Ma’s visit to China will take place around the same time as Taiwan. President Tsai Ing-wen planned trip to the United States, Taiwan’s only guarantor of security.

Cai’s Democratic Progressive Party sees Taiwan as an independent country, while the China-based opposition Ma Kuomintang views Taiwan as part of the Chinese nation, though not the People’s Republic of China.

China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory and threatens to attack if Taipei refuses to submit to its control indefinitely, is threatening the country air and sea maneuvers in its vicinity almost daily since Tsai’s landslide re-election in 2019, with whom Beijing refuses to engage. Meanwhile, China’s ruling Communist Party is seeking dialogue with the Kuomintang.

Beijing was expected to make great efforts to negotiate with the Kuomintang this year ahead of elections next January, while showing Tsai a chilly attitude, said Chao Chun-shan, a cross-strait expert who has advised Taiwan’s past four presidents. including Cai and Ma on China’s politics.

“This year there will be a push for a lot of dialogue, but after the election there will be a big change,” said Chao, who met with China’s top Taiwanese political figures during a trip to Beijing with Kuomintang Vice Chairman Andrew Xia last month.

“If the DPP wins, they will pressure Taiwan to move toward alignment with military threats. If the Kuomintang wins, they will push Taiwan to unite through negotiations,” he said.

Ma presided over two consecutive presidential terms from 2008 to 2016 to defuse tensions with Beijing, mainly because he agreed with the formula that Taiwan was part of China, although the two sides’ perceptions of that China differed. He cut defense spending and maintained a low profile approach to foreign relations and sovereignty.

His government had a bilateral trade deal with China and a second agreement on trade in services. But his presidency has disappointed China because Ma’s trade deals have sparked massive protests and widespread opposition to cooperating with Beijing. He met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Singapore in November 2015, the first ever meeting between a Taiwanese and a Chinese president, and the first such meeting between the Kuomintang and Chinese Communist Party leaders since the end of the civil war that the two parties fought in China until 1949.