Former Taiwan premier Frank Hsieh left for China on Thursday for a trip which makes him the most senior politician ever from the China-sceptic opposition party to visit the mainland.
The visit, described by local media as “ice-breaking”, came amid debate in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) about whether to change its China policy.
“I hope to prove that the DPP is capable of handling cross-strait relations and solving problems for Taiwanese businessmen based in China,” he told reporters at the airport.
Hsieh served as prime minister from 2005 to 2006 and retains major influence in the DPP. He was the party’s presidential candidate in the 2008 elections but lost to Ma Ying-jeou of the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang party.
Hsieh had earlier said that the purpose of his trip is to “build mutual trust”, although he declined to say if he would meet Chinese government officials during the five-day visit.
His first stop will be the southeastern coastal city of Xiamen, followed by a visit to nearby Dongshan Island where his ancestors lived before emigrating to Taiwan.
Later, the trip will take him to Beijing, where he plans to visit the Olympic stadium and attend an international cocktail contest as a guest of the International Bartenders Association.
Leading DPP members have debated whether their party needs to change its China policy, after voters in January re-elected Ma for a second and final four-year term.
Tensions with China soared in the eight years to 2008, when the DPP ruled Taiwan, but have eased markedly since Ma took office four years ago.
Beijing still claims sovereignty over the island and has threatened to invade should it declare formal independence. The two sides split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.