Taiwanese Politician Makes Unprecedented Visit to India

A prominent Taiwanese politician is making an unprecedented visit to India - the first such trip since the nationalist Kuomintang generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek spent two weeks there in 1942. VOA's Steve Herman reports from New Delhi that KMT presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou is attempting to convince political and business leaders that India's diplomatic ties with Beijing should not prevent closer economic relations between the booming South Asian giant and the East Asian island economic powerhouse.

Although India calls the visit private and unofficial, Taiwanese presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou's presence in the Indian capital is seen as significant for both Taipei and New Delhi.

Ma, the former mayor of Taipei, is the highest ranking official from Taiwan to visit India since the Chinese Nationalists, the Kuomintang, fled the mainland in 1949.

During his two-day visit, Ma scheduled meetings with the head of the governing Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi, as well as top opposition leaders. He also met with some Indian business executives.

In a speech to retired Indian diplomats, Ma said that New Delhi's recognition of Beijing should not hinder improving economic ties between India and Taiwan.

"The trade between mainland China and Taiwan is a typical investment-driven trade," said Ma. "I don't see why this cannot happen between Taiwan and India."

Two-way trade between Taiwan and India totals about $3 billion compared with the $100 billion between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland.

Only 24 countries recognize Taiwan, which lost its seat at the United Nations to Beijing in 1971. More than 170 nations now have diplomatic ties with China.

Diplomats say India arranged for Ma's visit in a way that would not offend Beijing. China, for its part, has said it has no objections to Ma's trip if he does not display Taiwanese symbols.

India in 2001 refused to allow a visit by Taiwan's vice president to distribute earthquake relief aid.

Ma, noting that he is the first Kuomintang leader to visit India in more than 60 years, praised Indian officials for what he called their pragmatism.

"Certainly we appreciate the opportunity to come here, particularly as a candidate for the presidential election. This is a very sensitive role," he said. "But on the other hand, I also appreciate the pragmatic attitude [by India] in doing that."

The trip was scheduled before a spat erupted between India and China. India canceled plans to send more than 100 bureaucrats to China after Beijing refused to issue a visa for one officer from the state of Arunachal Pradesh, where China has territorial claims.

Ties between China and India have been on an upswing for decades following a brief border war in 1962.

The man expected to be Ma's chief opponent in the March 2008 general election, the Democratic Progressive Party's Frank Hsieh is to visit Tokyo next week as head of a delegation representing current Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian. Hsieh is also planning an 11-day visit to the United States next month.