Former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou announced on Sunday that he will visit various Chinese cities between March 27 and April 7. It is the first time that a Taiwanese president – in office or not – has visited the People’s Republic of China since 1949, the year the Communist Party of China won the civil war against the Kuomintang, the nationalist party which had governed China up to that point, bringing its members to take refuge on the island of Taiwan.
Ma Ying-jeou is a leading exponent of the Kuomintang, which still exists and is considered in Taiwan as a party that traditionally favors maintaining ties with China, while firmly denying that it is pro-Beijing. He is already known to have chosen to meet Chinese President Xi Yingping in Singapore in 2015, shortly before the end of his mandate.
The visit comes against a backdrop of growing tensions between Taiwan and mainland China. Taiwan is a de facto independent state but China claims it as its own territory, and in recent years it has frequently organized Chinese military exercises around the island, as well as trying to isolate it dipolamtically. The fact that Taiwan is strongly supported by the United States contributes to further escalate tensions.
Ma Ying-jeou said he will visit the cities of Nanjing, Wuhan, Changsha, Chongqing and Shanghai to meet university students and visit historical monuments related to World War II, China’s conflict with Japan and the 1911 revolution, in which it was overthrown the last Chinese emperor. It is not known whether he will also meet Chinese officials or political leaders.
Since the strict restrictions on personal movement due to Covid-19 were lifted in both China and Taiwan, the Kuomintang has shown many signs of rapprochement with the People’s Republic: last month, party chairman Andrew Hsia visited Beijing, meeting with the prominent Communist Party leader Wang Huning. Domestically, Hsia has been heavily criticized for demonstrating such closeness to China, but the Kuomintang argues that keeping lines of communication open between countries is key, all the more so given the tensions.