Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je is expected to go to the United States in mid-March, joining a wave of political hopefuls planning trips to the US in their quest for Washington’s support in the island’s 2020 presidential race. Ko, an independent whose pro-Beijing views have raised concerns in the US, will visit Washington, New York, Boston and Atlanta on a nine-day trip from March 16, according to his office. Analysts said the popular politician was expected to brief US officials on his cross-strait policy and how it would affect American interests, an essential step for any presidential aspirant from Taiwan. At a closely watched cross-strait meeting in December, Ko underlined his policy of engagement with mainland China, saying that “relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are like those of a family”. That direction goes against the tide in Washington, which has shifted from a policy of engagement towards Beijing to one of confrontation under US President Donald Trump’s “America first” approach. In other words: Taipei mayor Ko Wen-jo calls for new way to say ‘one China’ Fan Shih-ping, a professor at the Graduate Institute of Political Science at National Taiwan Normal University, said any Taiwanese presidential candidate would have to reassure Washington about their intentions. “It is a must for any political bigwig from Taiwan to submit their test papers to the United States if they want to climb to the top position because Washington needs to make sure that his or her cross-strait policy is on the right track with what the Americans want.” He said it remained to be seen whether Ko could convince the Americans that his cross-strait policy would not violate US interests, especially with President Tsai Ing-wen, of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, leaning towards the US. Tsai has looked to Washington for support since Beijing suspended official exchanges with Taipei, staged war games near Taiwan to intimidate the island and poached five of Taiwan’s allies. Beijing’s action was in response to Tsai’s refusal to accept the one-China principle since her election in 2016. Beijing considers the one-China principle a foundation for any cross-strait dialogue. It also considers Taiwan a breakaway province that must be reunified, by force if necessary. Ko said he would look for opportunities for cooperation on his US trip, visiting biotech businesses, academic institutions, and think tanks in the four cities. “Washington … is the nation’s capital and the location of both the Senate and House [of Representatives], so I will visit to say hello,” he said. Asked if the visit was linked to the 2020 race, Ko said: “Why you media have to keep talking about 2020? It seems like everybody is forcing me to run for president.” Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen takes swipe at mainland China in Lunar New Year ‘blessing’ of democracy Ko is not the only politician who might want to run against Tsai but he is the most likely winner if the election were to take place now, according to various opinion polls. A survey in early January by National Chengchi University’s Election Study Centre on behalf of US-based Duke University suggested that Ko was well ahead of other possible contenders, including Tsai, and Eric Chu, a former New Taipei mayor from the mainland-friendly Kuomintang. In that poll, 38 per cent of respondents preferred Ko as president, followed by Chu on 21 per cent and Tsai on 15 per cent. The results are similar to the roughly 40 per cent level of support for Ko in a survey by cable news network TVBS in late January. “This means regardless of whether Ko wants to run, he will be highly influential in the race and will give a strong boost to any candidate who gets his support,” said a KMT official who declined to be named. The official said other potential presidential aspirants from the KMT included party chairman Wu Den-yih and former legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng. Former president Ma Ying-jeou might also want to run again. “Chu has already made a plan to visit US west coast later this month and may visit the east coast including Washington either in May or June following the KMT primaries,” the official said, adding that Wu and Wang also had plans to go to the US in the coming months. “Washington is keen to learn about their cross-strait policies and position towards the US,” the official said. Asked if Han Kuo-yu, the KMT politician who won the mayor’s race in the pro-independence stronghold of Kaohsiung in November, might want to run for president, the official said some younger KMT politicians were backing him because they saw him as the party’s most popular figure. “It is hard to say whether he would join in the presidential race. After all, he was just elected mayor and had no government administration experience before,” the official said. Han said he had an invitation to speak at Harvard University in Boston and planned to go to the US in April or May.