Former Taiwan president Ma open to meeting leaders on landmark China trip
TAIPEI, March 20 (Reuters) - Former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou is "at his host's disposal" when it comes to meeting senior leaders during a trip to China this month, but there are no plans for him to visit Beijing, a senior official from Ma's office said on Monday.
Ma will be the first former or current Taiwanese president to visit China since the defeated Republic of China government fled to Taiwan in 1949 at the end of a civil war with the Communists, where it remains to this day.
The trip comes at a time of heightened tensions between Beijing and Taipei as China keeps up military and political pressure to try and get democratic Taiwan to accept Chinese sovereignty.
Ma met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Singapore in late 2015 shortly before the current Taiwan president, Tsai Ing-wen, won an election.
Ma Ying-jeou Foundation director Hsiao Hsu-tsen told reporters that the March 27-April 7 trip was mostly about student exchanges and to pay respects to the graves of Ma's ancestors in China.
"The trip is to central China, we have not arranged to go to Beijing," Hsiao said.
He would not rule out meetings with senior officials when asked if Ma might have another get-together with Xi, though said they did not anticipate it.
"As guests, we are at our hosts' disposal," Hsiao said.
Taiwan's Presidential Office said it had been informed of and "respected" Ma's plans, noting the trip coincides with a "sensitive moment" of global focus on Russia's invasion of Ukraine and China's military activities around Taiwan.
The presidential office said it hoped Ma "will demonstrate Taiwan's values of democracy and freedom" on his trip.
Ma is scheduled to talk to students, visit sites connected to World War Two and China's conflict with Japan as well as those related to the 1911 revolution that overthrew the last Chinese emperor and ushered in the Republic of China.
Given that neither Taiwan nor China's governments recognise each other, Ma would simply be referred to as "Mr Ma Ying-jeou" while he is in China, Hsiao said.
Ma is a senior member of Taiwan's main opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), which favours close ties with China though strongly denies being pro-Beijing.
The KMT says outreach to China is needed now more than ever given the tension across the Taiwan Strait.
"He believes that the two sides have entered an icebound state in recent years. If young people can communicate and have dialogue, it will definitely reduce the current tensions," Hsiao said of Ma's thoughts on the visit.
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.
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