Taiwan: Tale of two presidents, Tsai in the US, Ma in China
Taiwan’s current and former presidents are on highly political and symbolic visits. Beijing is threatening to act “resolutely” if Tsai meets with leaders in Washington. Ma praises the founder of the Republic of China, Sun Yat-sen, and promotes peace between the mainland and the island, but is censored by the Chinese.
Taipei (AsiaNews) – Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and her predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou, seem to be duelling at a distance.
Tsai, leader of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), is disliked by Communist China because she is deemed to favour Taiwan’s independence. Yesterday she arrived in the United States where she will stay in New York until 1 April before travelling to Guatemala and Belize.
After Honduras broke diplomatic relations opting to recognise mainland China, the two Central American countries are among Taiwan’s last 13 diplomatic allies.
By contrast, former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou is on an unofficial and controversial visit to the mainland..
For many observers, Beijing wants to use his party, the Chinese nationalist Kuomintang, to drive a wedge in Taiwanese society ahead of next year’s presidential elections, hoping to undermine the DPP.
Tsai’s last visit to the US was in 2019. This visit comes amid heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing, and growing Chinese military pressure along the Taiwan Strait.
On 5 April, before returning home, Tsai is expected to meet with the speaker of the US House of Representatives, Republican Kevin McCarthy, in Los Angeles. China’s Taiwan Affairs Office has threatened to " take measures to resolutely fight back” if this happens.
China responded with a series of military exercises after Nancy Pelosi, McCarthy's predecessor, visited Taiwan in August 2022. Beijing considers the island a "rebel" province to be taken by force if necessary.
For its part, the US is committed to defending the island under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act adopted after the formal diplomatic recognition of communist China. The law does not specify the actual nature of the US commitment to Taiwan, but the resulting "strategic ambiguity" has fed constant tensions with Beijing.
On Tuesday, during his visit to Nanjing, in mainland China, former President Ma praised Sun Yat-sen, the founder of the Republic of China (ROC) in 1912, urging Taipei and Beijing to bury the hatchet and seek peace.
Taiwan has been de facto independent from the mainland since 1949 when Chiang Kai-shek's nationalists fled to the island after losing the civil war on the mainland against the communists, making it the heir to the ROC.
Despite "closeness" to the Kuomintang, Chinese authorities censored most of Ma's remarks, especially when he mentioned the ROC and described himself as a “former president of Taiwan”, fuelling even more the DPP’s criticism of Ma’s trip to the mainland.