Divided House: Taiwanese Leaders Make Divergent Trips To China And US

Swarajya Staff

Mar 20, 2023, 06:04 PM | Updated 06:04 PM IST

Former Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou.
Former Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou.

Former Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou's upcoming visit to China marks the first time a sitting or retired Taiwanese president has visited the Communist country.

From 27 March, Taiwan's 10-day trip will emphasize the sharp contrast between the country's top political groups on its association with China, ahead of the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled in January.

Ma's China visit coincides with Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen's US trip, where the US is the sole protector of Taiwan's safety.

The Democratic Progressive party, led by Tsai, views Taiwan as independent while the Kuomintang, opposing party led by Ma, sees Taiwan as a part of China (not PRC) due to their origin.

China regularly conducts air and naval maneuvers near Taiwan since the re-election of Tsai in 2019, as they consider Taiwan part of their territory. Beijing threatens to attack if Taipei doesn't submit to their control. Despite Beijing's refusal to engage with the re-elected Tsai, China's Communist Party is trying to establish dialogue with the KMT.

According to cross-Straits expert Chao Chun-shan, who has advised Taiwan's last four presidents on China policy, Beijing was anticipated to prioritize negotiations with the KMT and ignore Tsai in the run-up to next year's election in January.

Chao, who recently met with China's top Taiwan policy officials alongside KMT vice-chair Andrew Hsia in Beijing, predicts a strong emphasis on dialogue this year, followed by significant changes after the election.

He stated that if DPP wins, they'll use military threats to push for unification with Taiwan. KMT would opt for negotiation to unify if they win.

During his two presidential terms from 2008 to 2016, Ma oversaw the establishment of a detente with Beijing. He agreed that Taiwan was a part of China, despite differing views on its concept. Ma opted for a low-key approach to foreign relations and sovereignty, cutting back on defense spending.

During his presidency, Ma Ying-jeou secured a bilateral trade deal with China and negotiated a second agreement on trade in services. However, these deals did not result in a smooth relationship with China as it led to widespread protests and pushback against engagement.

In November 2015, Ma met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Singapore, a historically significant first-ever meeting between a Taiwanese and Chinese president, and the first encounter between KMT and Chinese Communist Party leaders since the Chinese civil war.

Get Swarajya in your inbox.