Taiwan's Kuomintang leader starts mainland visit

Kuomintang chairwoman Hung Hsiu-chu (C) arrives at the airport in Taoyuan, Taiwan, for her first trip to China, where she is expected to meet China's President Xi Jinping, October 30, 2016. Photo: Reuters 

Kuomintang Chairwoman Hung Hsiu-chu has started a closely watched trip to the Chinese mainland to meet President Xi Jinping and attend the annual KMT-Chinese Communist Party forum.

The high-profile meeting between Hung and Xi is slated to take place in Beijing's Great Hall of the People on Tuesday, a day before the opening of the Cross-Strait Peace Development Forum, formerly called the Cross-Strait Trade, Economy and Culture Forum.
In the weeks leading up to the event, the KMT appeared riven by conflict as party leaders sought to smooth differences in cross-strait policies, namely in interpretations of the 1992 Consensus.

KMT Central Policy Committee Director Alex Tsai said that during Hung's meeting with the Chinese president, Hung would "operate within the party charter" and "continue the script" used by past KMT chairmen.

She will not engage in off-script performances, Tsai said.

In her first visit to Nanjing as the KMT leader on Monday, Hung managed to refer to Taiwan as the Republic of China, to calm her opponents on the island. She also appeased the mainland by calling for people on both sides of the strait to work for a "Chinese renaissance" – a phrase often used by mainland leaders to woo the Taiwanese.

Mainland leaders, including Xi, have repeatedly urged Taiwanese leaders to work with them to achieve a "Chinese renaissance".

In Nanjing, the KMT leader paid her respects to the founder of modern China, Dr Sun Yat-sen, at his mausoleum.

Hung led the visiting delegation in presenting a wreath at the mausoleum, bowing before Sun's statue and observing one minute of silence. "Dr Sun … eventually overthrew the Manchu dynasty to establish the Republic of China," Hung said, uttering the words designed to placate her opponents in Taiwan.

That meeting between Xi and Hung has attracted grave concern among senior KMT officials and members who fear that Hung might say something to please Xi.

Taiwanese observers and some KMT officials have said the party could stand to lose future elections if Hung openly advocated a cause that most Taiwanese were not seen as ready for.

By openly mentioning the Republic of China – Taiwan's official title – on the mainland, Hung was trying to calm the fears that she is too sympathetic to Beijing, according to KMT observers.

In a luncheon with Nanjing city Communist Party secretary Wu Zhenglong, Hung was quoted by Taiwan's Central News Agency as saying that it was necessary for people on both sides of the strait to work together to create a "great future" for the "next generation of the Chinese race".

A poll released by the KMT on Sunday showed that 45.9 percent of respondents supported the notion of the KMT continuing exchanges with the Chinese mainland.

Around 51 percent of the respondents indicated support for the KMT's new charter, which in September was amended to leave out a clause on "separate interpretations of one China" in the 1992 Consensus framework.

According to the KMT, the poll's majority support for the amended charter affirmed that the change aligned with mainstream public opinion.

Cross-Straits relations have cooled since the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)'s election victory, said Ni Yongjie, deputy director of the Shanghai Institute of Taiwan Studies, a think tank. "Discussions on the current situation will surely be on the agenda during Hung's meeting with CPC leaders.

"Hung is strongly against so-called Taiwan independence," said Ni, referring to Hung's comments on opposing "independence" last week in a meeting with officials from the American Institute in Taiwan.

"Her trip to the mainland will bring more talks on the 1992 Consensus as well as exchanges between people from both sides of the strait."

Liu Guoshen, director of Xiamen University's Taiwan Research Institute, praised Hung's courage to visit the mainland at the current time.

"It's been a difficult time for cross-Straits relations, but the exchanges will not stop," he said. "The KMT plays an important role in the peaceful development of cross-Straits relations."

However, before Hung's tour of the Chinese mainland, DPP Department of China Affairs Director Chao Tien-lin urged Beijing to respect the existence of the Republic of China.

"All of Taiwan has focused attention upon the KMT and Hung," a statement from the party read.

"This visit should present the mainstream public opinion and outlook in Taiwan."

Chao urged Beijing to respect the existence of the ROC in conformance with the expectations of the Taiwanese people.

Chao expressed support for positive cross-strait interaction but stressed that the KMT-CCP forum was considered a "non-governmental exchange."

Any exchanges should abide by related laws, especially concerning issues that must be negotiated by the government, he added.

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