TAIPEI, March 19 (Reuters) – Former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou will visit China this month, his office said on Sunday, the first time a former or current Taiwanese leader has visited since the defeated Republic of China government fled to the island in 1949.
The trip will be at a time of heightened tensions between Beijing and Taipei as China keeps up its military and political pressure to try and get democratically-elected Taiwan to accept Chinese sovereignty.
Ma, who remains a senior member of Taiwan’s Kuomintang (KMT) opposition party, held a landmark meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Singapore in late 2015, shortly before current Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen was elected.
Ma’s office said that he would visit China from March 27 to April 7 and go to the cities of Nanjing, Wuhan, Changsha, Chongqing and Shanghai.
He will meet students and visit sites connected to World War Two and China’s conflict with Japan as well as those related to the 1911 revolution which overthrew the last Chinese emperor and ushered in the Republic of China, his office said
The Republic of China remains Taiwan’s official name.
It did not say if he would meet any Chinese officials or leaders, including whether he would meet Xi.
The KMT, which traditionally favours close ties with China but strongly denies being pro-Beijing, has been stepping up its engagement with China since both China and Taiwan eased COVID-related travel restrictions.
Last month the KMT’s deputy chairman Andrew Hsia visited Beijing and met with senior Communist Party leader Wang Huning.
Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) seized on Hsia’s China trip to attack the KMT for being too close to Beijing and wanting to sell out Taiwan, and criticised Hsia for going to “pay court to the communists”.
The KMT says it is important to keep lines of communication open with China, especially given the current tensions.
China has rebuffed repeated calls from Tsai for talks, believing her to be a separatist.
She says only Taiwan’s people can decide their future and rejects China’s sovereignty claims.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard Editing by David Goodman and Raissa Kasolowsky