Ma's Mainland Visit Not Aimed at Tsai's U.S. Visit, Beijing Intends to Ease Cross-Strait Tensions

United Daily News, March 24, 2023


Former President Ma Ying-jeou is scheduled to visit mainland China to pay respects to his ancestors in late March. Although both sides began negotiations last year when China had been put on lockdown, Mr. Ma’s visit came to light after it had been lifted.


A knowledgeable source familiar with both sides of the Taiwan Strait said that Mr. Ma’s visit to mainland China is of great significance to Beijing domestically because his visit could help relieve the rising pressure in the mainland. Just as during the administration of President Chen Shui-bian from 2000 to 2008, when cross-strait relations were at a low ebb, Kuomintang (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan's ice-breaking trip to China allowed the Chinese authorities to at least have a valid excuse domestically for how they dealt with cross-strait relations. That was in contrast with former President Chen’s anti-China stance, which ruined relations with mainland China, whereas Mr. Lien’s visit showed that there was still a possibility of peace across the Taiwan Strait. It meant there was room for China to seek dialogues with islanders in Taiwan, irrespective of their political orientation.


Ma Visit Will Relieve Some Pressure within Mainland China on Military Unification


The source indicated that cross-strait relations has been at a standstill for years before turning out increasingly confrontational and tense now due to the hardline positions of the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen. That allows Mr. Ma’s visit to pay homage to his ancestors to have a rather positive effect on the part of mainland Chinese authorities, similar to Mr. Lien’s visit to the mainland years ago. It could be claimed domestically that there is still room for China to engage in dialogue with Taiwan lest it should abruptly escalate to the use of military force against Taiwan.


According to the source, although Mr. Ma's office claimed to have started negotiating with mainland China last year when it was still under quarantine, no one could predict when it could be eased, let alone map out Mr. Ma’s current schedule. To a considerable extent, Beijing’s subjective desire for Mr. Ma's visit should be even stronger than Mr. Ma's desire to visit the mainland. The reason was that inasmuch as the relationship between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait has been stagnant for several years, Mr. Ma's visit to the mainland could make some progress. If you make a field visit to the Ma family's ancestral tomb to see when its renovation project kicked off, you would naturally know when the idea of Mr. Ma's visit would become a reality.


China Began to Compile Files of Ma’s Father 5 Years Ago


In February this year, it was reported that President Tsai could travel overseas. In early March, it was announced that President Tsai will meet with Speaker Kevin McCarthy of the U.S. House of Representatives during her transit through Los Angles as part of a trip to Guatemala and Belize. The timing of President Tsai’s and Mr. Ma’s visits overlapped slightly. According to the report, Beijing started planning for Mr. Ma's visit to the mainland as early as March this year, and the Taiwan Affairs Office of Chongqing Municipal People’s Government actively prepared for playing host to Mr. Ma in mid-March. It showed that Beijing was looking forward to Mr. Ma’s trip. The Second Historical Archives of China in Nanjing, which specializes in the archives of the Republic of China, has been preparing to compile archives related to Ma He-ling, the late father of the former president, as early as five years ago for receiving him.


Significance of Ma’s Visit Same as Lien’s Icebreaking Trip in 2005


A senior-level official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs believes that the timing of Mr. Ma's visit was a deliberate arrangement by Beijing. A source familiar with cross-strait affairs stated that Mr. Ma himself did not think so, but the coincidence of timing made it easy to associate. Furthermore, it is a Chinese tradition to pay respect to ancestors on the Qingming Festival. Even if it were deliberately arranged by Beijing, it did not aim at counterweighing President Tsai’s visit to the United States, but rather at easing the tensions between Taiwan and mainland China, just as Beijing did after Mr. Lien’s ice-breaking trip to China, which had alleviated internal pressure within the mainland and had slightly reduced cross-strait confrontation.



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