Former Taiwan premier Frank Hsieh Chang-ting arrives in Xiamen

The former Taiwan premier lands in his ancestral home at the start of a five-day trip to the mainland

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 October, 2012, 2:57pm

Former Taiwanese premier Frank Hsieh Chang-ting arrived in Xiamen , Fujian , yesterday at the start of a five-day ice-breaking visit that he hopes will help improve ties between the island's opposition Democratic Progressive Party and the mainland.

Soon after landing, Hsieh, a former DPP chairman, described the trip to his ancestral home of Xiamen - in the southeast across the Taiwan Strait - as a "visit to a familiar place - like one to my brother's home".

"I wanted to come for a visit 12 years ago, but I couldn't make it at that time, and this time I can use this visit to bridge the gap between then and now," he said. "I feel many things in Xiamen, including habits, culture and language, are similar to those of Taiwan," he said.

Hsieh, Taiwan's premier from 2005 to 2006 during the previous DPP administration, is the most senior politician from the pro-independence party to visit the mainland. Hsieh, who visited the mainland for the first time as a legislator 18 years ago, planned to visit Xiamen in 2000 in his capacity as Kaohsiung mayor, but that trip was barred by the DPP because of opposition to mainland visits by any of its officials.

Seen as one of the few party heavyweights who support better ties between the DPP and the mainland, Hsieh designed his trip to resemble the historic mainland visit by Kuomintang honorary chairman Lien Chan in 2005 - reaching out and taking the first step in the DPP's rapprochement with the mainland.

The focus will be on how the visit, which includes a stop in Beijing, proceeds - whether or not Hsieh is able to meet senior mainland officials and what sort of reception he is given. Those factors will be used to gauge the success or otherwise of his trip.

The DPP's ability to deal with cross-strait relations was a key factor in January's presidential election in Taiwan, with most voters preferring the KMT's Ma Ying-jeou. Ma's adoption of a mainland-engagement policy in his first term was seen as a success, owing to warming ties after a tense period during DPP rule.

Those on hand to greet Hsieh at Xiamen airport yesterday included Xiamen deputy mayor Kang Tao , Zhangzhou deputy mayor Xie Yitai and many members of Hsieh's clan. The former DPP chairman also attended a luncheon hosted by Xiamen mayor Liu Keqing before making a trip to nearby Dongshan Island to pay tribute to his ancestors. Hsieh also visited the island's "widow village" and had dinner with Hsieh clan members.

Officially known as Tongbo village, the "widow village" on Dongshan Island won its nickname at the end of the civil war in 1949 when defeated KMT troops took conscripted males aged between 17 and 55 in the village to Taiwan, resulting in the break-up of many families.

He is scheduled to visit Xiamen University today, where he will take part in a closed-door seminar on cross-strait cultural relations with a group of think tank scholars and experts.

Asked if he would meet senior mainland officials, Hsieh said he did not rule out the possibility of communicating and having dialogue with them.