Ex-Taiwan leader Ma kicks off China visit, may meet Xi amid tensions

Ex-Taiwan leader Ma kicks off China visit, may meet Xi amid tensions

FILE PHOTO: Former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou speaks to the media at Taoyuan international airport after concluding his 12-day trip to China in Taoyuan, Taiwan April 7, 2023. (Reuters)
FILE PHOTO: Former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou speaks to the media at Taoyuan international airport after concluding his 12-day trip to China in Taoyuan, Taiwan April 7, 2023. (Reuters)

Former Taiwanese leader Ma Ying-jeou of the opposition Nationalist Party kicked off Monday an 11-day visit to mainland China, where he may meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, amid tensions across the Taiwan Strait.

The trip takes place ahead of the inauguration in May of Taiwanese President-elect Lai Ching-te, who heads the ruling, independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party. Taiwanese media has reported Ma may hold what would be his second talks with Xi in Beijing on April 8.

"Our trip is both a journey of peace and a journey of friendship," Ma told reporters before his departure from Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport to Shenzhen in Guangdong Province.

Ma, who met Xi in 2015 in Singapore for a historic summit between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, said he wants to convey the Taiwanese people's hope to avoid war. Last year, Ma became the first former Taiwanese leader to visit the mainland since the two sides split in 1949 due to a civil war.

Cross-strait relations deteriorated after Ma's term as Taiwan's president from 2008 to 2016, which was followed by the government of the DPP's Tsai Ing-wen, the incumbent leader.

Beijing has shunned talks with the DPP government and slammed Lai as an independence advocate. China considers Taiwan as part of its territory and aims to bring the island into its fold, by force if necessary.

The opposition party, also known as the Kuomintang, calls for dialogue with the mainland. Ma's previous trip to the mainland in the spring last year did not include a stop in Beijing.

Ma's delegation including students will spend three days in Guangdong, visiting Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou as well as Chinese internet services giant Tencent Holdings Ltd and electric vehicle maker BYD Co, according to the Ma Ying-jeou Foundation.

The former leader's group will then move to the northwestern Chinese province of Shaanxi. On Thursday, the delegation will attend a ceremony to honour the Yellow Emperor, considered one of the common ancestors of all Chinese, and arrive in Beijing Sunday afternoon before concluding their trip on April 11.

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