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Former Taiwan president arrives in China pledging peace

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TAOYUAN: Taiwan’s ex-President Ma Ying-jeou became on Monday the first sitting or former Taiwanese leader to visit mainland China since the Communist revolution in 1949, saying he hoped to bring about peace and improve relations.

Ma’s office said he was met at Shanghai’s Pudong airport by officials including Chen Yuanfeng, deputy head of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office. The visit has been criticised by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party of Ma’s successor Tsai Ing-wen.

Ma’s 12-day trip will not involve any official meetings, his office said, with his focus on paying tribute to his ancestors and promoting youth exchanges.

Speaking to reporters before leaving from Taiwan’s main international airport at Taoyuan, Ma, 73, said he was “very happy” to be going on a trip where he will talk to students and pay respects to the graves of his ancestors in China.

Ma, in office from 2008-2016, is 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.

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

“Apart from going to make offerings to my ancestors, I am also taking Taiwan university students to the mainland for exchanges with them, hoping to improve the current cross-strait atmosphere through the enthusiasm and interaction of young people, so peace can come even faster and sooner to us here,” Ma said in short remarks.

Ma was born in Hong Kong in 1950 to Chinese immigrant parents from Xiangtan in Hunan province, which he will visit in addition to the cities of Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuhan, Chongqing and Changsha, his office said last week.

Taiwan’s ruling DPP criticised Ma, saying it was inappropriate given former long-time Taiwan ally Honduras had ended ties with Taipei in favour of Beijing the day before. Taiwan will hold a presidential election next year, with the KMT and DPP the main contenders for the position.

Ma is a senior member of Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), which favours close ties with China although it strongly denies being pro-Beijing. The KMT says outreach to China is needed now more than ever given the tensions across the Taiwan Strait. Ma met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Singapore in late 2015 shortly before Tsai was elected.

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.

Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2023

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