People on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are ethnically Chinese and share the same ancestor, former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou said on Tuesday, during his controversial visit to China.
Ma’s visit is the first by a sitting or former Taiwanese leader to the mainland since the defeated Republic of China government fled to Taiwan in 1949 at the end of a civil war with the Communists.
It is part of outreach by Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), to China in hopes of reducing tensions. The KMT traditionally favours close relations with China, but strongly denies being pro-Beijing.
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“People on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are Chinese people, and are both descendants of the Yan and Yellow Emperors,” Ma said, in comments provided by his office.
Ma used wording in Chinese meaning people of Chinese ethnicity, rather than referring to their nationality. Descendants of the Yan and Yellow Emperors is an expression referring to a common ancestor for Chinese people.
Most Taiwanese no longer identify as Chinese, according to polls.
Ma made his comments in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing at the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum, where the man celebrated for overthrowing the last Chinese emperor in 1911 and ushering a republic is buried.
Sun is officially still considered the father of the Republic of China, which remains Taiwan’s official name. He is also lauded by the Communist Party for the overthrow of the Qing dynasty, but the governments in Beijing and Taipei do not recognise each other.
Taiwan Strait Tensions
Ma’s trip comes at a time of heightened tensions between Beijing and Taipei.
The visit has been criticised by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of Mr Ma’s successor Tsai Ing-wen, saying it was inappropriate given former long-time Taiwan ally Honduras had ended ties with Taipei in favour of Beijing on Sunday.
Meanwhile, the KMT says outreach to China is needed now more than ever, given the tensions across the Taiwan Strait.
Ma met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Singapore in late 2015, shortly before Tsai won an election.
China has rebuffed Tsai’s repeated calls for talks, believing her to be a separatist. She says only Taiwan’s people can decide their future.
Ma is not scheduled to meet any senior Chinese officials while there. But the head of his foundation said last week that Mr Ma will be “at his host’s disposal” if they do arrange such a get-together.
Speaking to reporters before leaving from Taiwan’s main international airport at Taoyuan, Ma, 73, said he was “very happy” to be going on the trip.
“Apart from going to make offerings to my ancestors, I am also taking Taiwan university students to the mainland for exchanges with them, hoping to improve the current cross-strait atmosphere through the enthusiasm and interaction of young people, so peace can come even faster and sooner to us here,” he said in short remarks.
Both supporters and opponents were at the airport for Ma’s departure as he left for China.
Demonstrators from the pro-independence group Taiwan Republic Office were allowed to show banners inside the airport for only a brief period before being pushed out by police.
The former Taiwanese president, in office from 2008 to 2016, reached China on Monday. He was met at Shanghai’s Pudong airport by officials including Mr Chen Yuanfeng, deputy head of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office.
- Reuters with additional editing by Sean O’Meara
NOTE: This report was updated with new information on March 28, 2023.
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