• Kyodo

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Ma Ying-jeou, chairman of Taiwan’s Nationalist Party, began a six-day trip to Japan on Monday in an effort to bolster bilateral ties.

Ma, 55, widely predicted to be the Nationalists’ standard-bearer in the 2008 presidential election, will visit Tokyo, Yokohama, Kyoto and Osaka on his first trip to Japan since his election last year as leader of the main opposition party.

Ma, who is also mayor of Taipei, is scheduled to meet with Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, Yokohama Mayor Hiroshi Nakada and other political figures. He will speak at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Tokyo and give an address at Yokohama City University.

On Thursday in Kyoto, Ma is expected to hold talks with local officials and give a speech at Doshisha University, Nationalist Party officials said.

“We hope to exchange views with our Japanese friends over several issues, such as bilateral business ties and the maintenance of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region,” Ma told reporters at Taipei airport.

He suggested that Japan should work even more closely with Taiwan, saying the island can serve as a gateway for Japan to the Chinese market.

He called Sino-Japanese reconciliation crucial to regional peace but added he welcomes any actions, including the U.S.-Japan security alliance, that is conducive to stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

On relations between Taipei and Beijing, Ma advocates maintaining the status quo and is highly critical of independence-minded President Chen Shui-bian’s hardline stance toward China, which sees Taiwan as a renegade province and has threatened to invade should it declare formal independence.

Ma has condemned China’s suppression of human rights but thinks Taiwan should pursue closer economic ties with China.

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