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Former Taiwan president ‘to meet with Xi Jinping’ during China trip

Ma Ying-jeou’s calls for Taiwanese to recognize their ‘Chineseness’ spark anger in the democratic island.

Former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, who is currently on a controversial tour of China in a bid to ease tensions across the Taiwan Strait, could meet with Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping this week, according to a person familiar with the situation.

A meeting had been scheduled for Monday, but has now been pushed back to Wednesday, coinciding with the U.S.-Japan-Philippines leaders’ summit in Washington, a person familiar with the negotiations told RFA Mandarin. A Taiwanese political analyst said the date also marks the anniversary of the signing of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which Beijing opposed at the time.

Ma, whose Kuomintang party once ruled China, fled to Taiwan after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong’s communists in 1949 and ruled as an authoritarian dictatorship for several decades before being voted out in democratic elections in 2016. He arrived in China on April 1 for an 11-day visit aimed at promoting peace.

"The meeting between Ma and Xi is at China's invitation; it was Xi Jinping who decided they would meet," a person familiar with the situation said. 

ENG_CHN_MaXiMeeting_04082024.2.jpg
Former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, left, meets with Song Tao, director of China's Taiwan Affairs Office, in Shenzhen, China, April 1, 2024. (Ma Ying-jeou Foundation via AP)

The meeting comes as China seeks to improve relations with key diplomatic partners and ease its growing international isolation, the person said.

"By meeting with Ma Ying-jeou, Beijing is creating the impression that dialogue between Beijing and Taiwan is still possible," they said.

Taiwan has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, nor formed part of the 73-year-old People’s Republic of China, and most of its 23 million people have no wish to give up their sovereignty or democratic way of life to be ruled by China, according to multiple public opinion polls in recent years.

Neither Ma nor Chinese officials have confirmed that he will meet with Xi.

Beijing has slammed Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen and her ruling Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP, as "dangerous separatists" and refused the government-to-government talks stipulated by the Tsai administration as a precondition for cross-Straits negotiations.

Trips criticized

Meanwhile, Ma’s repeated trips to China have been criticized by Tsai and her officials as undermining the island's government, because his insistence on a “Chinese” identity for Taiwan shores up Beijing’s territorial claims.

In a process that began with inviting Taiwanese politicians to visit China last year, on the condition that they don't reject Beijing's territorial claim on the island, Beijing wants to counter the impression made by its "wolf-warrior" diplomacy of recent years, the person said.

Ma on Monday visited the historic Marco Polo Bridge, where the first shots were fired in the Japanese invasion, and spoke of wanting to weep when considering the heroism of the Chinese people who resisted it.

"There are no winners in war, and there are no losers in peace," he told reporters at the site. "Mistakes in war may be forgiven, but historical truth can't be forgotten." 

ENG_CHN_MaXiMeeting_04082024.3.jpg
Former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou attends a ceremony at the Mausoleum of the Yellow Emperor in the northern Chinese province of Shaanxi, April 4, 2024. (Ma Ying-jeou’s office)

Ma last met Xi in Singapore in late 2015 at a landmark summit, shortly before incumbent Tsai won a landslide victory in the presidential election of 2016.

He remains a senior member of the Kuomintang, or KMT, which lost the presidency to the DPP for the third time in a row in January, but holds no official position in Taiwanese politics.

Ma's visit this month coincides with the Qing Ming grave-sweeping festival, and the former democratically elected president used a visit to the Mausoleum of the Yellow Emperor in the northern province of Shaanxi to call on the island’s young people to "remember their Chinese roots," sparking criticism back home in Taiwan.

He is also visiting a number of sites linked to the fight against Japan during World War II, in which the Kuomintang government and Mao Zedong's forces formed an uneasy alliance that descended into civil war after Japan surrendered in 1945.

"You don't grieve Taiwan's earthquake disaster ... instead you are a thousand miles away crying over the Japanese invasion in World War II 80 years ago," DPP lawmaker Wang Ting-yu commented in an April 4 Facebook post.

"[Yet you] ignore the fact that the Chinese Communist Party to this day hasn't renounced the use of force against Taiwan," Wang wrote, accusing Ma, who served two terms as president from 2008-2016, of "echoing" Beijing's propaganda.

‘Anniversary politics’

Soong Kuo-cheng, a researcher at Taiwan's National Chengchi University, said the date for Wednesday's meeting had likely been carefully chosen.

"It's not just about disregarding the U.S.-Japan summit in Washington, but also, this date marks the 45th anniversary of the signing of the Taiwan Relations Act," said Soong, referring to the 1979 Act that requires the U.S. government to take steps to defend Taiwan against aggression, including allowing arms sales.

"For 45 years, China has regarded the Taiwan Relations Act as an anti-China law aimed at protecting Taiwan," he said. "Moving the date for the Ma-Xi meeting to April 10 is anniversary politics."

The Act has been described as the U.S. Congress' "gift to Taipei" after the United States broke off diplomatic ties with the Republic of China on Taiwan and switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing.

ENG_CHN_MaXiMeeting_04082024.4.jpg
Protesters wearing masks of former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping perform outside of Taoyuan International Airport in Taiwan, April 1, 2024. (Chiang Ying-ying/AP)

It was passed “to help maintain peace, security, and stability in the Western Pacific and to promote the foreign policy of the United States by authorizing the continuation of commercial, cultural, and other relations between the people of the United States and the people on Taiwan" following the ending of formal diplomatic ties.

It also defines any threat to Taiwan as a threat to the interests of the United States.

Beijing saw the law as a betrayal of U.S. commitments to its "one China" policy.

Soong said Ma's repeated message to Taiwan's people that they share common ancestry with people in China is highly Sinocentric.

"Ma Ying-jeou is foolish to say that blood is thicker than water," Soong said. "At a time when the rest of the world sees the Chinese Communist Party as an enemy, and Biden refers to Xi Jinping as a dictator, Ma is the only one crazy enough to think that not only can we trust them, but to thank them too."

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.


This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By Hwang Chun-mei for RFA Mandarin.


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