Former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou plans landmark visit to China

Former Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou plans to visit China next week, but his itinerary will not include Beijing. Photo: Sam Yeh/AFP via Getty Images

Former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-Jeou will make a landmark visit to China next week — the first such trip by a former Taiwanese leader since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949.

The big picture: Ma will not visit Beijing and didn't arrange any political events, but he will "suit the convenience of the host" if Chinese officials wish to meet him during his 12-day trip, Hsiao Hsu-tsen, the director of the Ma Ying-jeou Foundation told reporters on Monday.

  • Tensions between Taipei and Beijing have escalated since then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a historic visit to Taiwan last year. The Chinese military conducted live-fire drills around the island for days, and Taiwan vowed to deepen military ties with the U.S.

The backstory: Ma, a senior member of the opposition Kuomintang party who served as Taiwan's president between 2008 and 2016, promoted stronger economic ties between the self-ruled island and Beijing.

  • The cross-strait relations sharply deteriorated after the nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) took power in 2016, which emphasized Taiwan's sovereignty and bolstered its ties with Washington.

Details: From March 27 to April 7, Ma will lead a delegation of Taiwanese academics and students for a visit to several southern Chinese cities, including Nanjing, Wuhan, Changsha, Shanghai and Chongqing, where the youth will interact with their Chinese counterparts, Hsiao said.

  • Ma will also pay respects to his ancestors in Hunan province ahead of Tomb Sweeping Day on April 5, Hsiao added.

What they're saying: Beijing welcomed Ma's visit to the mainland and is willing to provide necessary assistance, China's Taiwan Affairs Office said in a statement.

  • “He’s not really representing the government to go and negotiate, I think he just wants to transmit the idea of peaceful exchange,” Kao-cheng Wang, a professor at Taiwan's Tamkang University, told AP about Ma’s plan to bring students.

Between the lines: Ma's trip to China will overlap with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen's stopover in the U.S. on her way to Central America.

  • Hsiao said the overlap is a coincidence since Ma had already planned his trip ahead of the Lunar New Year and wasn't aware of Tsai's itinerary.
  • Taiwan's presidential office said Ma had notified Tsai of his plans and it hoped that as a former head of state, Ma "can show the value of Taiwan’s democracy and freedom and the position of equality and dignity in cross-strait exchanges.”

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