"People on both sides of Taiwan Strait are Chinese”, Taiwan President Ma’s comments draw criticism

Nanjing, China -Former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou declared on Tuesday at the start of a historic visit to China that Taiwan's ruling party has criticized: "People on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are ethnically Chinese and share the same ancestor."

Since the defeated Republic of China government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after a civil war with the Communists, Ma, who served as president from 2008 to 2016, is the first former or current leader of Taiwan to visit China.

He is in the country at a time of increased polarization as Beijing employs political and military pressure to try to force Taiwan's democratically elected government to recognize Chinese sovereignty.

The island's ruling Democratic Progressive Party has questioned why he is coming to Taiwan so soon after China severed diplomatic ties with Honduras on Sunday, leaving the island with only 13 countries with which it has formal diplomatic relations.

Ma praised Sun's accomplishments in remarks made at the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum in Nanjing, in eastern China, which houses the remains of the man hailed for deposing the last Chinese emperor in 1911 and establishing a republic.

Ma stated in remarks made public by his office that "People on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are Chinese people, and are both descendants of the Yan and Yellow Emperors,"

Instead of referring to someone's nationality, Ma used language in Chinese that meant "people of Chinese ethnicity." The phrase "descendants of the Yan and Yellow Emperors" alludes to the Chinese people as having a common ancestor.

Polls show that the majority of Taiwanese no longer identify as Chinese.

Sun is still regarded as the founding father of Taiwan's official name, the Republic of China.

The Communist Party also praises Sun for toppling the Qing dynasty, but Beijing and Taipei's governments do not recognize one another.

Ma's visit is a part of the Kuomintang (KMT), the main opposition party in Taiwan, reaching out to China in an effort to defuse tensions. Although the KMT has historically supported close ties with China, it vehemently denies being pro-Beijing.

President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan has repeatedly offered to hold talks with China, but has been turned down because Beijing views her as a separatist. She claims that the future of Taiwan rests solely with its people.

Senior KMT member Ma expressed his desire for peace.

Again using a phrase that refers to the Chinese people as an ethnicity rather than a nationality, he said, "We sincerely hope that the two sides will work together to pursue peace, avoid war, and strive to revitalize China," We must put in a lot of effort because this is a duty that Chinese people on both sides of the Strait must bear.

Ma's itinerary for this trip does not include any meetings with top Chinese officials. In 2015, he met Xi Jinping, the president of China, in Singapore.

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