Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) is scheduled to visit the US in March, sparking speculation that he is preparing to run for president in 2020.
US officials have arranged for Ko — who is to be sworn in today for his second term — to visit in March so that they can get to know Taiwanese political leaders, sources familiar with the matter said.
Taipei City Government spokesman Liu Yi-ting (劉奕霆) on Sunday confirmed that Ko would visit the US in the spring, but added that the itinerary was still being planned.
Photo: Chen Pei-yao, Taipei Times
The US does not publicly discuss people’s visa applications due to privacy laws, American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) spokeswoman Amanda Mansour said.
The city government has not requested help from central government agencies that handle foreign affairs, a national security official said on condition of anonimity, adding that it is normal for the heads of local governments or political parties to make overseas visits.
After he focused on relations with China during his first term, Ko planning to visit the US shortly after the start of his second term makes it appear he is sending a message to the US that he is not pro-China, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Wang Ting-yu (王定宇) said on Sunday.
Visits to the US by a Taipei mayor are associated with plans for a presidential bid, Wang said, adding that Ko’s trip leads people to this conclusion even if it is not his intention.
The DPP did not do well in last month’s elections, so politicians are emboldened, he said.
Wang said that over the next few months, many politicians, such as Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) and New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫), would likely visit the US or China.
It is worth observing whether Ko’s overseas visit carries the same significance as the visits of other politicians, he said.
Ko’s intention can be discerned through his itinerary, DPP Legislator Chiu Chih-wei (邱志偉) said.
Surveying municipal infrastructure, exchanging ideas on medical practice, participating in events hosted by overseas Taiwanese communities or attracting businesses to Taipei would be in line with Ko’s position as mayor, Chiu said, but added that visiting diplomatic and defense think tanks or the US Department of State would not.
In March 2016, Ko made his first trip to the US as mayor, leading a delegation of city officials and business leaders to San Francisco, Phoenix and Los Angeles to learn from US businesses.
Speculation about whether Ko might launch a 2020 presidential bid re-emerged after his re-election and he reiterated in the opening address to the Taipei-Shanghai forum on Wednesday last week that “the two sides of the Strait are one family.”
At a news conference on Thursday last week, Ko spoke of the need for a new term to describe cross-strait relations due to the so-called “1992 consensus” and “one family” having acquired bad connotations.
The so-called “1992 consensus,” a term former Mainland Affairs Council chairman Su Chi (蘇起) in 2006 admitted making up in 2000, refers to a tacit understanding between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese government that both sides of the Strait acknowledge there is “one China,” with each side having its own interpretation of what “China” means.
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