Taiwan ex-president Ma Ying-jeou on Thursday called for maintaining exchanges with China as he met with a Beijing official during a historic mainland visit, a trip Taipei’s ruling party has called “regrettable”.

Ma’s visit is the first trip to the mainland by a former or current leader of Taiwan in over seven decades.

Former president of Taiwan Ma Ying-jeou.
Former president of Taiwan Ma Ying-jeou. File photo: Presidencia República Dominicana.

China claims the democratic island as part of its territory to be retaken one day and, under its “One China” principle, no country may maintain official ties with both Beijing and Taipei.

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen arrived in New York Wednesday for a 10-day overseas trip that has triggered threats of reprisal by China if she meets with US House speaker Kevin McCarthy — and US warnings for Beijing not to overreact.

Tsai will also travel to Guatemala and Belize to shore up ties with those diplomatic allies.

The visits come days after Honduras, one of Taiwan’s few remaining official partners, cut off diplomatic ties and established relations with Beijing.

“People on both sides of the strait belong to the same Chinese nation and are descendants of the Chinese people,” Ma said in a statement Thursday.

“The two sides of the Taiwan Strait must maintain exchanges, work together, do everything possible to avoid wars and conflicts, and strive to revitalise China.”

tsai ing-wen in the US
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen at a stopover in the US. Photo: Taiwan gov’t, via Flickr.

The 72-year-old former Kuomintang (KMT) party leader met with Song Tao, head of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, asking the official to convey his greetings to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Ma oversaw a dramatic improvement in cross-strait ties during his 2008-16 rule, which culminated in a 2015 summit between him and Xi in Singapore.

Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has been far more wary of developing closer ties with Beijing.

“We should be more united… but it’s regrettable that the KMT stands with the Chinese communists and ex-president Ma disregards public disapproval to visit China at this moment,” the party said in a statement Monday.

Taiwan will hold a presidential election next year, with the KMT and DPP the main contenders for the position.

Ma’s visit to the mainland includes stops in Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuhan, Chongqing and Changsha, his office said last week.

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