This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, visiting mainland China amid ongoing regional military tensions, echoed Beijing’s official line on the democratic island on Tuesday, claiming that people in democratic Taiwan and in communist China are “all ethnically Chinese.”
“People on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are ethnically Chinese and are all descendants of the Yan and Yellow Emperors,” Ma said on the first day of his trip, which he has billed as a peace-making mission. But critics say he has undermined the Taiwanese government, which needs U.S. support to fend off Beijing.
His trip previously came as Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen prepared to visit the United States starting Wednesday.
Recent opinion polls indicate that there is broad political support for self-rule in Taiwan, where the majority of voters identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese, and which has never formed part of the 73-year-old People’s Republic of China.
But Beijing regards the island as part of China, and has threatened to invade if Taiwan refuses its plans for “peaceful unification,” a notion Beijing backs up with the claim that people in Taiwan and China are all “from the same family.”
For example, China’s State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office said in a September 2022 statement: “No individual, nor any force, can change the fact that compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Strait share the same origins, the same language and the same ethnicity.”
Peace is ‘unavoidable responsibility’
Ma visited a mausoleum in Nanjing dedicated to Sun Yat-sen, who founded Ma’s own party, the Kuomintang, and who served as the first president of the 1911 Republic of China after a revolution that toppled the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
Taiwan remains a sovereign state under the same Republic of China name after Kuomintang leaders fled there in 1949 when they lost a civil war to Mao Zedong’s communists.
Ma also said peace was “the unavoidable responsibility of Chinese people on both sides of the Strait.”
“We sincerely hope that the two sides will work together to pursue peace, avoid war, and strive to revitalize China,” Ma said, echoing Chinese President Xi Jinping’s slogan, “the rejuvenation of the great Chinese nation,” a key phrase in Xi’s political lexicon.
While Ma has no scheduled meetings with Chinese leaders, he is being given a red carpet welcome and was met at the airport by the vice chairman of Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office.
He was ushered into a waiting high-speed train to Nanjing in a coordinated security operation that saw the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum temporarily closed to visitors, according to the World Journal, a U.S.-based pro-KMT newspaper, and Singapore’s pro-Beijing Lianhe Zaobao newspaper.
Ma met with Xi Jinping in Singapore in 2015 while he was serving his second term as president of Taiwan.
China’s state news agency Xinhua described Ma as a “former Taiwan leader,” rather than former president, adding that he and his delegation had “paid their respects” to Sun and presented a “floral basket” offering in the mausoleum.
“Ma wrote an inscription meaning ‘Peace, endeavor, revitalizing China’ in commemoration,” the brief report said.
However, a number of journalists from Taiwan and Hong Kong were unable to cover the trip, according to Hong Kong’s Chinese-language Ming Pao newspaper.
The paper said it had been told that there were no arrangements in place for journalists from Hong Kong or Macau wanting to cover Ma’s trip, and accreditations were only being offered to media organizations from Taiwan.
But the World Journal said the Taiwanese press corps had gotten left behind when Ma boarded the high speed train for Nanjing, prompting a personal apology from Zhong Xiaomin, who heads Shanghai’s municipal branch of the Taiwan Affairs Office.
Taiwan’s Central News Agency said the specific arrangements for the trip weren’t shared with reporters until the last minute, while some parts of the visit had no opportunity to ask Ma or his entourage questions.
The Communist Party-backed English-language Global Times newspaper carried Ma’s comments about shared origins on the front page of its website, and repeated that message in quotes from foreign policy experts.
“During Ma’s eight years as Taiwan’s regional leader (2008-2016), the two sides held 11 high-level talks and signed 23 agreements in fields ranging from economy and tourism to flights,” the paper said.
It blamed Taiwanese President Tsai for current cross-straits tensions, saying she had “actively colluded with anti-China forces in the U.S. and pushed Taiwan to the brink of military conflict.”
Taiwan’s Vice Premier Cheng Wen-tsan said China had instigated the conflict with its military sabre-rattling, and had been interfering in Taiwan’s ability to forge international partnerships and excluding it from international organizations.
“China has been waging a continuous diplomatic siege as well as military threats against Taiwan, and has carried out a number of cognitive operations in recent years,” Cheng said. “Former President Ma … should have a deep understanding of the situation in Taiwan, as it’s a very important issue affecting the survival of our country.”
New People Party Chairwoman and lawmaker Wang Wen-yu called on Ma to cancel the trip, which comes as Honduras switched its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing.
“China is very malicious and has been systematically suppressing Taiwan’s international space,” Wang told a news conference in Taipei. “I think such actions must be strongly condemned.”
“As we have seen, former president Ma has chosen this time for this visit, and clearly hasn’t made any effort to support Taiwan,” she said.