Ex-Taiwanese President Ma visits China

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Former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou is visiting China to help build social and cultural links on a trip that might include a meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping despite heightened tensions.

Ma left Taipei on Monday with a student group on an 11-day trip that underlines continued interactions in education, business and culture despite Beijing’s threat to use military force against the self-governing island democracy to achieve unification.

Toward the end of his second term in 2015, Ma held a historic meeting with Xi in Singapore, which has close contacts with both sides. The meeting — the first between the leaders of China and Taiwan in more than half a century — produced few tangible outcomes and Ma’s Nationalist Party lost the next presidential election to Tsai Ing-wen of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.

Current Vice President Lai Ching-te, despised by Beijing for his opposition to unification, was elected as Tsai’s successor in January, although the Nationalists recovered a narrow majority in the legislature.

Ma’s itinerary includes a visit to Beijing, where there is heavy speculation he might meet with Xi, who says he remains open to Taiwanese politicians who proclaim that the island and the mainland, which split during a civil war in 1949, belong to a common Chinese nation.

Taiwan’s official Central News Agency quoted Hsiao Hsu-tsen, who directs Ma’s foundation, as saying he hopes Ma will have the chance to meet with “an old friend,” but gave no details.

Taiwanese are largely opposed to political unification with China, and the island is boosting military relations with allies such as the U.S. and Japan while maintaining close economic ties with the mainland.

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