China’s top official for handling Taiwan issues emphasized shared cultural links during a meeting with Ma Ying-jeou, the first former president of the democracy to travel across the strait.
Song Tao, head of Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said “people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are of one family” during a meeting with Ma in Wuhan, the official Xinhua News Agency reported Thursday night.
Song also called for “boosting the peaceful development of cross-strait relations,” while opposing “foreign interference,” a veiled reference to US support for Taiwan and its 23 million people, especially militarily.
The comments underscore China’s efforts to strengthen ties with Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), which will try to win the presidency for the first time in a decade. Last month, Song met KMT Vice Chairman Andrew Hsia while he was visiting China. The election is scheduled for next January.
Beijing is also trying to counter perceptions that it is becoming reckless amid increased geopolitical tensions. Premier Li Qiang told business and government leaders at the Boao Forum for Asia on Thursday that his nation was committed to peace.
Ma’s trip to China comes as Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen stops in the US as part of a trip to Central American allies. She has worked to build Taiwan’s profile on the world stage since taking power in 2016.
While China has pledged to take control of Taiwan by any means necessary—and has stepped up military and diplomatic pressure on island in recent years—it also emphasizes shared historical and cultural links as a reason its claim is legitimate. The government in Beijing has never controlled Taiwan.
Ma, president of Taiwan from 2008 to 2016, is visiting China until April 7. He’s leading a group of students to Shanghai and other cities, including his family’s ancestral hometown in the central province of Hunan.
Earlier this week, he visited the mausoleum in Nanjing of Sun Yat-sen, the Chinese leader who founded the KMT, which Ma eventually led. Ma also toured a museum commemorating the massacre carried out by Japanese troops in 1937.
Both the Communist Party and the KMT fought the Japanese in China during World War II.
Tsai, whose Democratic Progressive Party insists the island is already a de facto sovereign nation, said at an event in New York Wednesday that “Taiwan is at the front lines of democracy.”
China has warned the US and Tsai that a meeting with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy during an upcoming stop in Los Angeles would be a serious provocation.
China responded to a meeting last summer between Tsai and then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi by holding military drills around Taiwan and sending missiles overhead. Bloomberg News