Global Viewpoint

Taiwan President Ma: Taiwan will not be Hong Kong

Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou discusses relations with mainland China, economic growth, the risk of armed conflict, and why Taipei will not bow to Beijing as Hong Kong has.

Ma Ying-jeou is the president of Taiwan. He was interviewed for the Global Viewpoint Network by Pacific Perspectives columnist Tom Plate last week.

Final position

Tom Plate: How, if at all, does the evolution of the relationship between the People’s Republic of China and Hong Kong impact on Taiwan’s thinking about the “final position” between Taipei and Beijing?

Ma Ying-jeou: Since the handover of Hong Kong to mainland China in 1997, it has been a “special administrative region” under Beijing’s jurisdiction.

Though Hong Kong’s Basic Law declares that it shall be governed by its people and enjoy a high degree of autonomy, the reality is that in Beijing’s “one country, two systems” model, the Hong Kong “system” must bow to the will of the “one country.” By contrast, the Republic of China (Taiwan) is a sovereign, democratic nation. So the mainland-Hong Kong model can’t apply to cross-strait relations.

In view of the impossibility of resolving the cross-strait sovereignty dispute in the near future, my administration’s pragmatic approach is to maintain the status quo of no unification, no independence, and no use of force under the Republic of China’s constitution while cultivating harmonious relations and promoting friendly interaction. Events have shown that this approach creates space for Taiwan to move forward, with improvements in cross-strait relations enhancing our opportunities for participation in international affairs.

Looking toward the future, surveys conducted by our Mainland Affairs Council show that an overwhelming majority of people in Taiwan are in favor of maintaining the status quo. As Taiwan is a democratic society based on respect for the public will, in the realm of cross-strait relations, this government will continue to abide by the principle of putting the interests of our 23 million people first and respecting their freedom of choice.

Plate: Do you think it will ever dawn on your opposition that true, complete, and formal independence from the mainland is a very slim likelihood indeed, at least for the foreseeable future?

Ma: The Republic of China has been a sovereign, independent nation since its establishment in 1912, and next year will mark its centennial. It therefore does not need to pursue independence. In fact, there is no nation in the world which declares independence twice. This is the practical reality across the Taiwan Strait as well as the common understanding of the great majority of people in Taiwan, including the opposition.

Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement

Plate: What are the risks, if any, that Taiwan takes with ECFA (Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement)?

Ma: Negotiating the ECFA is an indispensable aspect of the government’s overall strategy for strengthening Taiwan’s economy, forging ties in the Asia-Pacific, and responding to the trend of regional integration. In all we do, we strive to put our people’s interests first, maximize opportunities, and minimize risks.

Some people are concerned that the ECFA will create the risk of overreliance on mainland China and lead to cross-strait unification. In the course of the ECFA negotiations, however, we have put in place safety measures to reduce such risk. In particular, the text of the agreement contains no politically compromising content.

The agreement is designed to help cross-strait economic relations move forward in an orderly, gradual fashion, in accordance with World Trade Organization principles and in consideration of our respective economic conditions.

It is similar to an FTA in nature, not a customs union or common market. Therefore, claims that it will cause Taiwan to be absorbed into a “one-China market” are unfounded.

Cross-strait missiles

Plate: What would your government have to do to induce the PRC to begin a less-threatening redeployment of cross-strait missiles?

Ma: Mainland China has deployed over a thousand missiles against us. Because most of them are mobile, their redeployment has no substantive meaning. As tensions continue thawing across the Taiwan Strait, the mainland side’s expanding deployment of missiles is obviously incongruous. Still, if the mainland authorities were willing to redeploy them, we would appreciate it as a goodwill gesture meant to improve cross-strait relations.

It is beyond our ability to force mainland authorities to move their missiles. But through ongoing economic and cultural exchanges, we will keep working to advance cross-strait understanding and friendship and lead people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to realize that only peace and good will can bring the prosperity and well-being we all seek. Then, the missile issue will resolve itself.

Plate: What would the PRC have to do to enable you to persuade your people that Taiwan needs to stop buying US arms and even consider serious arms reduction?

Ma: Since I came to office on May 20, 2008, I’ve done my utmost to promote peace across the Taiwan Strait and reduce the risk of armed conflict. Though cross-strait tensions have eased, after 21 years of continuous double-digit growth of the mainland’s defense budget, its military strength exceeds its defense needs, and its forces opposite Taiwan have continued to increase.

The scale of mainland China’s military power far exceeds ours, and we don’t have the ability to engage in an arms race. The arms we buy are purely defensive, so no matter what, we will continue to maintain the self-defense capability necessary to ensure our national security.

The purpose of our arms purchases is to ensure our sustainable development. Maintaining an adequate defense force is an essential “investment in peace” that can also afford us more confidence in cross-strait talks. Besides, we need highly capable armed forces responsive to dangers posed by multifarious new types of unconventional warfare. So we won’t give up building the defensive power we realistically need in response to actions mainland China or others may take.

Cross-strait détente is no reason for our armed forces to relent in their mission to stay strong and protect the nation. They will remain vigilant and do what it takes to deal with any external threat and play a positive support role in the development of cross-strait relations.

© 2010 Global Viewpoint Network/Tribune Media Services. Hosted online by The Christian Science Monitor.

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