Ma Ying-jeou has begun his controversial visit to the mainland by pointing out shared ethnicity, calling for peace
Former Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou has set the tone for his historic 12-day trip to China by calling for more peaceful relations between Taipei and Beijing and pointing out the common ancestry of their people.
"We are all Chinese," Ma proclaimed on Tuesday in Nanjing, where he spoke in front of the Sun Yet-sen mausoleum. "People on both sides of the Taiwan strait are Chinese people and are both descendants of the Yan and Yellow emperors," he added.
Ma became the first current or former Taiwanese head of government to visit the mainland when his plane arrived on Monday afternoon in Shanghai. He's making the trip amid heightened tensions with China, which ramped up military drills in the Taiwan Strait last year and has vowed to reunify with the island, by force if necessary.
Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has criticized Ma's China trip - noting that it comes just days after China wrestled away the Honduras, one of the self-ruled island's few allies - and has accused his Kuomintang (KMT) opposition party of standing with "the Chinese communists." Ma remains a senior leader of the KMT after being succeeded as president by the DPP's Tsai Ing-wen in 2016.
The 73-year-old Ma, who is joined on his six-city trip by former aides and a group of college students, has no plans for meetings with Chinese government officials. "I hope to improve the cross-strait atmosphere through the enthusiastic interactions of young people, so peace can come to us faster and sooner," he told reporters before departing from Taiwan on Monday.
Ma is traveling around China as Tsai prepares to depart on Wednesday for her visit to the US, where she's expected to meet with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi angered Beijing by visiting Taipei last August, defying warnings from Chinese officials that the trip would encourage Taiwanese separatists and undermine China's sovereignty over the island. China responded by cutting off military and climate ties with Washington.
Ma also made history in 2015, when he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Singapore, marking the first such summit since former Taiwanese leader Chiang Kai-shek's nationalist government fled to the island in 1949. "We sincerely hope that the two sides will work together to pursue peace, avoid war, and strive to revitalize China," he said on Tuesday. "This is an unavoidable responsibility of Chinese people on both sides of the Strait, and we must work hard."
The former president's reconciliatory comments came on the same day that Czech lawmaker Marketa Pekarova Adamova made a Pelosi-like visit to Taipei. "Dear lawmaker colleagues and dear people of Taiwan, I guarantee you we are with you now," she said in a speech to Taiwanese legislators. "We will continue to be with you under any circumstances. We are in the same boat together." She added that if Chinese forces attack Taiwan, "they will fail."