Taiwan’s Ma Set to Become First Former President to Visit China

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(Bloomberg) -- Former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou said he plans to visit China later this month — the first such visit by an ex-leader of the self-run island — an announcement that comes as Taipei hosts a flurry of foreign delegations in a sign of its rising profile on the world stage.

Ma will lead a group of students to Shanghai and other cities, and also pay his respects at his family’s ancestral hometown from March 27 to April 7, said Hsiao Hsu-tsen, who leads a foundation for Ma. Ma’s family comes from the central province of Hunan, and Hsiao said this would be his first visit to China.

“The trip won’t be too political,” Hsiao said at a briefing on Monday, adding Beijing was not on Ma’s itinerary. “If Ma can make efforts promoting cross-strait peace, it’s a responsibility that he can’t relinquish.”

Beijing confirmed the trip by Ma, president from 2008-2016. Ma filed a legally required application to visit China, Taiwan Presidential Office spokesperson Lin Yu-chan said in text message, adding that he was expected to “behave in a way that’s in line with national interests and national sentiments.”

Read: China Says It’s Ready to Enhance Ties With Taiwan Opposition

The journey comes as China courts the Kuomintang that Ma once led as Taiwan gears up for a presidential election in January. Last month, KMT Vice Chairman Andrew Hsia traveled to China, winning a pledge from Beijing to build closer ties with the party.

The KMT’s forces fled to Taiwan around 1949 after losing a civil war to the communists that founded the government noow running China. Despite that history, the KMT is Beijing’s preferred negotiating partner, partly due to the shared Chinese heritage.

That stands in marked contrast to how Beijing views Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and the Democratic Progressive Party. The DPP asserts Taiwan is an independent nation deserving more recognition internationally, a stance Beijing sees as separatism and pledges to counter by force if necessary.

Taiwan’s greater international profile is on display this week in Taipei, where lawmakers from the UK, the Czech Republic and Paraguay are visiting. Germany is also sending a federal minister for political talks for the first time in 26 years.

Bettina Stark-Watzinger, who oversees the education and research portfolios in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s ruling coalition, is set to arrive Tuesday for a trip focused on expanding research cooperation in computer chips, green hydrogen and batteries.

Germany is in the final stages of drafting a National Security Strategy in which economic resilience and reducing one-sided dependencies on countries like China will play an important role. China is expected to be described as an international partner, competitor and systemic rival.

Ma’s trip across the Taiwan Strait will likely overlap with a visit by Tsai to the US and two of the 14 nations that still have official diplomatic ties with Taiwan, Guatemala and Belize. Tsai’s office hasn’t announced her itinerary yet.

While in the US, Tsai will meet with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Tsai’s meeting with his predecessor, Nancy Pelosi, in August in Taipei prompted China to hold military drills around Taiwan that appeared to practice a blockade and also send missiles over the island.

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