Former President’s historic China visit overshadowed by death of baboon

The first former president of the Republic of China to visit the People’s Republic of China may have made international headlines in recent days, but the leading news story in Taiwan was the tragic death of a baboon who was found fatally injured upon capture, Monday, March 27.

[See previous story: African baboon caught after more than 17 days on the loose in northern Taiwan]

An analysis of headlines from a wide range of Taiwanese news outlets collected by a news aggregator used by this publication, showed that between 11:29 am and 11:42 am yesterday, of 100 stories published, 11 were dedicated to the baboon, and just one to former president Ma Ying-jeou’s visit to China.

“People on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are Chinese people, and are both descendants of the Yan and Yellow Emperors,” Ma said at a ceremony at the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum in Nanjing today.

But the speech did not draw much attention on the Taiwan side of the strait. An online survey posted by a radio DJ in Tainan City asking which is the more important news issue today, Mr Ma’s visit to China or the baboon dying in Taoyuan, drew close to 2,000 responses with 96% choosing the baboon story, and just 4% choosing the Ma China visit.

Survey by DJ金寶,

The Taiwanese people’s disinterest in Ma’s visit may be illustrative of the deep divide between the former KMT (Chinese Nationalist Party) president’s sentiments and the aspirations of the Taiwanese people.

“We sincerely hope the two sides will work together to pursue peace, avoid war, and strive to revitalize China … This is an unavoidable responsibility of Chinese people on both sides of the strait, and we must work hard,” Ma said today in a statement eerily echoing Xi Jinping’s “Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation” speeches.

The Ma camp has painted his 12-day China trip as one focused on paying homage to his ancestors while leading a group of students on an educational exchange. But Ma’s itinerary is heavy on visiting sites commemorating the establishment of the Republic of China, and especially the Second Sino-Japanese War – a conflict which saw the KMT and CCP pause their civil war and form a united front against a foreign aggressor. Every symbolic point of the itinerary appears to have been chosen to convey a semiotic message.

As far as the signals from Beijing go, Ma’s visit has so far received the petulant snub treatment. There was no red carpet rolled out for Ma when he stepped off the Chinese state-owned China Air airplane at Shanghai’s Pudong Airport, March 27, 2023, in contrast with the visit of former Vice President Lien Chan in 2005.

composite image contrasting welcome to China
Former President Ma Ying-jeou gets cold tarmac treatment, 2023; as compared to former Vice President Lien Chan’s warm welcome in 2005.

When Lien Chan arrived in China in 2005, he was greeted by the director of the Taiwan Affairs Office: by contrast, Ma was greeted by the deputy director of the Taiwan Affairs Office.

In a Liberty Times report, Sung Kuo-chen, a senior researcher at the International Relations Research Center of National Chengchi University, said that China’s reception standards are deliberately downgraded. In the past, “Mr. Ma” at least shook hands with Xi Jinping, but this time he sent the deputy director of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the Mainland China to pick him up. Moreover, Chinese official media don’t even address him as “Mr,” showing a lack of politeness, and lowered reception standards.

Sung emphasized that Ma Ying-jeou’s visit to China had a negative influence on Taiwan by encouraging capitulationism and appeasement, which not only weakened the psychological morale of the Taiwanese people, but also made the international community think that Taiwan was not united enough, which in turn weakens international support for Taiwan.

Beijing continues to deny requests from the Taiwanese government for state-to-state diplomatic talks because the current Democratic Progressive Party administration insists on Taiwan being treated as a sovereign nation, rather than a province of China.

Ma Ying-jeou’s acceptance of the low-standard treatment shown to him in the People’s Republic of China marks a strong contrast in the way he and his party regards Taiwan.

This is why the Taiwanese people were more interested in the movements of an exotic primate on the loose in what they regard as their own country, rather than their former president’s itinerary in a foreign country he regards as his motherland.

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