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Ma's visit has a deeper significance

By Pan Hsi-tang | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2023-03-29 17:17

Ma Ying-jeou pays tribute to Sun Yat-sen, founder of the KMT, at Dr Sun Yat-sen's Mausoleum in Nanjing, Jiangsu province on March 28, 2023. [Photo/Xinhua]

Former Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou's visit to the Chinese mainland from March 27 to April 7 is the first by a former leader of the island to the mainland since 1949. Although the primary purpose of Ma's visit is to pay his respects to his ancestors on Qingming Festival (Tomb Sweeping Day) and promote youth exchanges across the Taiwan Straits, it will also have a significant impact on overall cross-Straits ties.

Given the current freeze in cross-Straits relations, Ma's potential meetings with high-ranking officials from the mainland could be seen as a positive step toward promoting exchanges and restoring normalcy across the Straits. The importance of Ma's visit should not be underestimated.

The Ma Ying-jeou Foundation has said his visit has two themes: "family affair" and "youth". First, Ma's visit to his ancestral home in Hunan province with family members highlights the powerful bond of kinship. In fact, most people in Taiwan can trace their roots back to the mainland, and the good thing is that Taiwan compatriots have preserved Chinese culture and traditions, including festivals such as Spring Festival, Qingming Festival, Dragon Boat Festival and Mid-Autumn Festival .

The different religions and customs followed by Taiwan compatriots, as well as the traditional values of faith, filial piety, loyalty and righteousness all embody the beauty of Chinese culture. Both sides of the Straits share the same roots, language and culture. We are one family.

Second, Ma's itinerary includes multiple dialogues between students from the two sides of the Straits, which will help enhance mutual understanding and promote friendship among the next generation.

Ma often says restoring peace and promoting prosperity should start with the younger generation.

During his term in office, Ma opened up Taiwan to mainland students, ushering in a new era of youth exchanges across the Straits. But in February 2020, the Tsai Ing-wen administration banned mainland students from studying in Taiwan in excuse of the pandemic, dealing another blow to cross-Straits ties.

The Ma Ying-jeou Foundation has been focusing on cultivating young students, and through his visit to the mainland, Ma sends a signal that he hopes to ensure students from both sides of the Straits exchange their ideas and experiences, instead of being hostile toward each other.

Since Ma is visiting the mainland to pay his respects to his ancestors at a time of heightened tensions across the Straits. His visit brings a silver lining. The visit shows only by acknowledging the 1992 Consensus that there is only one China and Taiwan is an inalienable part of China can positive cross-Straits dialogue be restored.

Ma's visit can have a calming effect on cross-Straits ties. Former Kuomintang chief Lien Chan's "breaking the ice, pursuing peace" visit in 2005, and Ma's acknowledgement of the 1992 Consensus after taking office not only helped improve cross-Straits relations but also brought many benefits to Taiwan residents.

But after taking office in May 2016, Tsai refused to recognize the 1992 Consensus, pushing cross-Straits relations to the brink of military conflict. Ma has taken the first step toward restoring peace across the Straits. If more Taiwan compatriots were to follow in the footsteps of Lien and Ma to promote cross-Straits exchanges, they can promote peace across the Straits and bring significant benefits for the island.

Ma's visit to the mainland around Qingming Festival to pay his respects to his ancestors shows he has not forgotten his roots and identifies with the Chinese nation, and shares historical perspectives, and family and cultural ties with people on the mainland.

During his term in office, Ma promoted consultations and people-to-people exchanges between the mainland and Taiwan, which greatly improved cross-Straits ties.

Ma's visit to the mainland has a deeper significance. It shows that many Taiwan residents still remember their ancestors. Ma is accompanied by young students who hopefully, through their exchanges with mainland students, will reduce hostility between people across the Straits and restore cross-Straits peace.

Ma's efforts to defuse cross-Straits tensions and restore peace should be welcomed by people on both sides of the Straits. And more people should follow his footsteps.

The author is a professor of the cross-Straits relations and international relations at Fu Jen Catholic University. The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.

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