KMT Ex-Taiwan President's Mainland Visit Means What?

(MENAFN- Asia Times) Former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou plans to visit mainland China next week, ahead of a potential visit of incumbent Taiwan's leader Tsai Ing-wen to the United States in April.

Ma will become the first former Taiwanese president to visit the mainland since Kuomintang, then the ruling party of the Republic of China, fled to Taiwan in 1949, 74 years ago.

Ma's office said there is no arrangement for Ma to go to Beijing or meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping or other mainland officials during the trip between March 27 and April 7. It said the ex-Taiwanese leader will only pay a visit to his ancestors' tombs and meet mainland students.

Tsai has signaled guarded approval of the visit but there are those in Taiwan on her side of the strait who fear Ma's visits will play into Beijing's plans to take over Taiwan.

Just tomb-sweeping

Ma, together with his four sisters and 30 students from his foundation, will visit Nanjing, Wuhan, Changsha, Chongqing and Shanghai during his trip. They will visit the relics of the 1911 Revolution and the War of Resistance against Japan and meet students from Fudan University, Wuhan University and Hunan University.

Qingming Festival. Photo: CGTN

When Ma was still Taiwan's leader, he met with Xi in Singapore in November 2015.

The Chinese government said it welcomes Ma's visit and will do its part to facilitate his visit.

“Paying respects to ancestors around the Qingming Festival is a tradition shared by people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait,” Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesperson for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, said Monday.“Also, more exchanges between young people from both sides can create new energy and inject youthful vitality into the peaceful development of cross-strait relations.”

This year's Qingming or Ching Ming Festival, also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day, falls on April 5.

Calm reaction from Taiwan politicians

Eric Chu, Kuomintang's chairman, said it's a good thing to have more exchanges between Taiwan and the mainland. Chu said Ma's trip will help promote peace in the Taiwan Strait.

Hou You-yi, mayor of New Taipei and a potential candidate representing Kuomintang in the 2024 presidential elections, said he respects Ma's visit to the mainland and believes that current regulations are sufficient to handle the matter.

Ma's trip is politically sensitive as Tsai is reportedly going to meet US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy when she stops over in the US on her way to visit several Central American countries in April.

US Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen. Image: PTI

Besides, the Ma trip was announced on Sunday, just before Xi began his three-day trip to Moscow on Monday to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin and discuss the Ukrainian crisis. He will then have a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Tsai said Monday that she respects Ma's tomb-sweeping plan and has already called on relevant government departments to provide him with assistance. She said she hopes Ma's activities on the mainland will promote Taiwan's interests and match Taiwanese people's emotions.

“A guest should suit the convenience of the host,” Xiao Xucen, executive director of the Ma Ying-jeou Foundation, told the media as he was asked about whether Ma will meet any Chinese officials.“Ma is a person who takes the general situation into consideration and will handle his tomb-sweeping matter in a simple way.”

Xiao added that since Ma finished his term in 2016, he has received a lot of invitations from the mainland side but he could not begin his journey due to the Tsai administration's objection and China's Covid-19 lockdowns. He said Ma believes that more exchanges between students from Taiwan and the mainland will help reduce political tensions in the Taiwan Strait.

According to Taiwan's National Security Information Protection Act, Taiwanese officials who have handled confidential information are barred from traveling overseas for three years after they leave their posts. In 2019, Tsai extended the travel ban on Ma by two more years but then when that prohibition ended Ma could not go to the mainland due to the pandemic.

Less sanguine views from the commentariat

“Ma can now go anywhere he wants but he should not visit the mainland if he really cares about Taiwan's interests,” Wang Dan, a Taiwan-based academic and political activist, says in a post on social media.“The Chinese Communist Party has recently started a new round of united front work while Ma's visit to the mainland in the capacity of the former Taiwanese President will echo with the CCP's work.”

Wang says with this trip, Ma apparently is telling the world that Taiwanese people are willing to accept Beijing's reunification plan. He says it is inevitable that some people cast doubt on Ma's loyalty to Taiwan.

Wang also criticizes Kuomintang's Chu and Hou for not opposing Ma's mainland trip.

Shen Yu-chung, a professor at the Department of Political Science, Tunghai University, said Ma's trip will create pressure on Kuomintang, which has not yet established a clear stance on the Taiwan Strait matter. Shen said Ma will enjoy more influence within Kuomintang, depending on whom he can meet in mainland China.

Wong On-yin, a Hong Kong-based political commentator, also says on his YouTube channel that Ma's trip to the mainland is not good for Taiwanese people.

Wong says if the People's Liberal Army successfully occupies Taiwan one day, Beijing may appoint Ma as a temporary president to govern the island under the“one country, two systems” model. He predicts that Taiwanese people will not oppose Ma in the beginning and, over a period of about a decade, Taiwan will gradually change to become like Hong Kong, which is now directly ruled by the CCP.

Last August, the PLA launched a three-day military exercise near Taiwan in a threatening response to the then-US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to the island.

PLA soldiers under training last August. Photo: Eastern Theater Command

Last November, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the ruling party in Taiwan, faced a setback at local elections as its candidates won only five out of 22 counties and independent cities, down from the seven it had controlled.

Kuomintang won three key industrial cities – Taipei, Taoyuan and Keelung – although it lost in western counties including Miaoli, Kinmen and Penghu. Commentators said many voters have suffered from high inflation.

Since then, Beijing has lowered its tone on Taiwan matters and has said it will keep connecting with those who oppose Taiwan's independence and try to reunify with Taiwan peacefully.

But political tensions in the Taiwan Strait increased again after McCarthy said on March 7 that he would meet Tsai in the US this year. China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it expressed diplomatic discontent to the US and urged Washington to clarify whether there will be a Tsai-McCarthy meeting.

Xi said in a speech at the March 13 closing ceremony of the annual meeting of the National People's Congress that mainland China will resolve the Taiwan matter under the one-China principle and the 1992 Consensus and it remains determined to push forward the reunification of the two places.

Some mainland columnists say Beijing has the strength to achieve reunification with Taiwan by force now but it will wait until independence forces die down on the island.

However, the road for Kuomintang to win the 2024 presidential elections remains bumpy. On March 4, the largest opposition party in Taiwan lost a legislative by-election in Nantou county, a traditional stronghold, to the DPP. Taiwan's media described this election as an early skirmish of the presidential elections.

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Follow Jeff Pao on Twitter at @jeffpao3


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