Former Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou will visit China this month in what will be the first visit to the communist country by a sitting or retired Taiwanese president.
The 10-day trip, starting March 27, will highlight sharp differences between Taiwan’s two main political parties over its relationship with China, as they prepare to campaign for next January’s presidential and parliamentary elections.
Ma’s visit to China will come around the same time Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen is scheduled to visit the US, Taiwan’s sole guarantor of security.
Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party views Taiwan as an independent country, while Ma’s opposition Kuomintang, which was founded in China, views Taiwan as part of the Chinese nation, although not the People’s Republic of China.
China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory and threatens to attack Taipei if it refuses to submit to its control indefinitely, has been threatening the country with air and naval maneuvers in its vicinity on an almost daily basis since the 2019 landslide re-election. Tsai, with whom Beijing refuses to engage. Meanwhile, China’s ruling Communist Party wants to negotiate with the KMT.
Chao Chun-shan, a cross-strait expert who has advised Taiwan’s last four presidents, said Beijing was expected to make a major push for talks with the KMT this year ahead of next January’s election. including Tsai and Ma on China policy.
“There will be a push for greater dialogue this year, but there will be a big change after the election,” said Chao, who met China’s top Taiwan policy officials on a trip to Beijing last month with KMT Vice-Chair Andrew Xia.
“If the DPP wins, they will force Taiwan to move toward unification with military threats. If the KMT wins, they will force Taiwan to move toward unification through negotiations,” he said.
Ma observed detente with Beijing during his two consecutive presidential terms from 2008 to 2016, mainly because he agreed with the slogan that Taiwan was part of China, although the two sides had different conceptions of that China. He cut defense spending and adopted a low-key approach to foreign relations and sovereignty.
His government concluded a bilateral trade agreement with China and negotiated another agreement for trade in services. But his presidency has disappointed China as Ma’s trade deals have sparked mass protests and a widespread pushback against engagement with Beijing. He met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Singapore in November 2015, the first meeting between a Taiwanese and Chinese president and the first such meeting between the leaders of the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party since the end of the civil war fought between the two sides in China. 1949.