Taiwan's KMT party chief heads to China for meeting with President Xi

Eric Chu, chairman of Taiwan's ruling Nationalist Kuomintang Party (KMT), gives a speech during a news conference in Taipei, Taiwan on May 1, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Eric Chu, chairman of Taiwan's ruling Nationalist Kuomintang Party (KMT), gives a speech during a news conference in Taipei, Taiwan on May 1, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI (AFP) - The head of Taiwan's ruling party departed on Saturday for a high-profile visit to China, in the first visit to the mainland by a Kuomintang (KMT) chief since 2008.

Eric Chu, chairman of the KMT, is set to attend an annual trade forum in Shanghai at the weekend before meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on Monday.

He has promised to raise the issue of the Taiwanese public's growing unease over mainland China's influence on the island, while Taiwan's bid to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is also on the agenda.

No peace accord with Beijing will be discussed, however.

"There won't be any black-box or back-room (deals). We will use open and transparent means to let everybody approach cross-strait ties and the KMT's exchanges with mainland China with a positive attitude," Chu said on Friday.

Chu succeeded embattled President Ma Ying-jeou in January as chairman of the ruling party, which instated a rapprochement with China on a platform of promoting trade and tourism between the two sides.

But public sentiment has turned against the Beijing-friendly approach as voters say trade deals have been agreed in secret and not benefited ordinary Taiwanese.

Scores of protesters from the Taiwan Solidarity Union opposition rallied at Taipei airport on Saturday accusing Chu of "selling out" and waving placards reading "Sell-out Taiwan" and "Taiwanese decide Taiwan's future".

"We are protesting against Eric Chu for disregarding Taiwanese people's objections to go to China and meet Xi Jinping. Chu is betraying Taiwan," protester Chang Chao-lin told reporters.

In March last year, around 200 students occupied parliament for more than three weeks to demonstrate against a controversial services trade pact with China, in what became known as the "Sunflower Movement".

The KMT suffered its worst-ever showing in local polls in November - seen as a barometer for presidential elections in 2016 - with its Beijing-friendly policy blamed for alienating voters.