Taiwan, China can resolve differences, former president says

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Taiwan and China can peacefully resolve their differences, former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou said on Thursday after meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping, adding that people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait share the same culture and history.

Ma, president from 2008 to 2016, last year became the first former or sitting Taiwanese leader to visit China.

On Wednesday, he held his second meeting with Xi, following a landmark summit in Singapore in 2015 when Ma was still Taiwan’s leader, which was the first time Chinese and Taiwanese leaders had met following the end of the civil war in 1949.

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Speaking on his return from Beijing, Ma said he hoped young Taiwanese can put aside ideology and realize the historical and cultural links between Taiwan and China.

“More importantly, the Chinese on both sides of the Strait can handle disputes peacefully,” he added.

China considers democratically-governed Taiwan its own territory, and has ramped up military and political pressure to assert those claims. Neither government recognises the other.

Ma, who was accompanied by a group of students to Beijing, said his visit had shown the youth that people on either side of the strait are “descendants of the Yan and Yellow Emperors”, an expression referring to a common ancestor.

In an apparent slip up, Ma added that people on either side of the strait both belong to “the Republic of China”, before correcting himself to say “the Chinese people”, using wording referring to those ethnically or culturally Chinese.

Ma made the same verbal slip up during his meeting with Xi, in footage carried on Taiwanese television stations.

The defeated Republic of China government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong’s communists.

China’s government, formally the People’s Republic of China, does not recognize the existence of the Republic of China, Taiwan’s official name, making the mention in Xi’s presence highly sensitive.

Ma laughed but did not answer the question when asked if this wording was intentional.

Taiwan’s government rejects Beijing’s sovereignty claims, saying the People’s Republic of China has never ruled the island and that only the Taiwanese people can decide their future.

China says its precondition for dialogue is to recognize that both China and Taiwan belong to “one China”, which Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has refused to do.

Ma remains a senior member of Taiwan’s main opposition party the Kuomintang (KMT), which in January lost for the third time in a row the presidential election, but has no official party position. The KMT advocates close ties with China and dialogue, but strongly denies being pro-Beijing.

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