Tension with China has escalated under Taiwan’s government and the island will in future have to choose between “peace and war”, former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou said on Friday at the end of a landmark visit to China.
Ma is the first former Taiwanese president to ever visit China. Since the defeated Republic of China government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong’s communists, no serving island leader has visited China.
“Our administration continues to lead Taiwan to danger. The future is a choice between peace and war,” Ma told reporters at Taiwan’s main airport after arriving from Shanghai at the end of his 12-day visit to China.
Ma was president from 2008 to 2016 as the head of a Kuomintang (KMT) government. The party, now in opposition, favours close ties with China, which claims the island as its own.
Ma’s visit came at a time of heightened tension with China’s anger roused this week by a meeting between Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, during a stopover by the Taiwan leader in the United States.
Beijing has been stepping up its political and military pressure to get democratically governed Taiwan to accept Chinese sovereignty.
Tsai and her government reject that and say only the island’s people can decide their future.
Tsai’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) criticised Ma’s trip but he said it had proven that Taiwan and China could engage under the principle that both are part of a single China though each can have its own interpretation of the term.
Ma said Taiwan could share a “common political basis” with China, which would be in the best interests of the people of Taiwan.
Tsai’s DPP said in a statement Ma had become an “accomplice” of Beijing’s “one China” principle and he had failed to take the opportunity to defend Taiwan’s sovereignty.
Tsai has offered talks with China but Beijing, which views her as a separatist, has rebuffed her.
Ma met Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2015 in Singapore, shortly before Tsai was elected president, but he did not meet the Chinese leader on this trip.
He visited historic sites in several cities including Wuhan, where he met Song Tao, the head of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office.
The KMT has defended its contacts with China saying it is trying to reduce tension and it will trumpet that line in the run-up to a presidential election in January.
Ma said he would continue to work in a private capacity “to ensure Taiwan has a future of real peace and safety”.