Taiwan’s ex-president Ma Ying-jeou will travel to China next week, his spokesman said Monday, in the first cross-strait visit by a current or former leader of the island in more than 70 years.

Ma will not visit Beijing and has no current plans to meet Chinese government officials, the spokesman added.

Ma Ying-jeou and Xi Jinping
Ma Ying-jeou and Xi Jinping. File Photo: Taiwan Gov’t.

China claims self-ruled, democratic Taiwan as part of its territory to be seized one day, by force if necessary. The two split in 1949 after a civil war won by the Communist Party, with the defeated nationalists fleeing to the island.

A member of Beijing-friendly party the Kuomintang (KMT), Ma oversaw a dramatic improvement in ties during his 2008-16 rule, which culminated in a summit between him and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Singapore in 2015.

Relations have plunged under Ma’s successor, President Tsai Ing-wen, who has taken a more robust position on Taiwan’s sovereignty, prompting increasing military, diplomatic and economic pressure from Beijing.

Ma hoped to help reduce tensions with his visit, set to take place between March 27 and April 7, his spokesman said.

During his trip, he will pay tribute to his ancestors and promote youth exchanges, he added.

Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has condemned Ma’s planned visit, accusing him of following a pro-Beijing agenda.

“The people of Taiwan cannot accept a retired head of state becoming a pawn in the CCP’s promotion of unification,” the party said in a statement, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.

Taiwan will hold a presidential election next year, with the KMT and DPP the main political parties vying for the top post.

Taipei Taiwan flag ROC Republic of China
A person walking by Taiwan flag installation ahead of National Day celebrations in Taipei, Taiwan, 06 October, 2021. Photo: Walid Berrazeg/HKFP.

In Beijing, the Taiwan Affairs Office on Monday welcomed news of the visit and offered to “provide the necessary assistance”, according to spokesman Ma Xiaoguang.

Ma Ying-jeou 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.

His visit comes after a series of recent exchanges between China and KMT officials.

Last month, KMT vice-chairman Andrew Hsia conducted a nine-day trip to China, followed by the visit of a delegation of Shanghai officials to Taipei.

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