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Taiwan: the Asia-Pacific Peacemaker

By: Ma Ying-jeou, President of the Republic of China (Taiwan) - Posted: Monday, April 13, 2009

Taiwan: the Asia-Pacific Peacemaker
Taiwan: the Asia-Pacific Peacemaker

Since May 2008, relations between Taiwan and mainland China have manifested a marked dιtente in step with our initiatives to improve interaction across the Taiwan Strait. This development has won Taiwan widespread international affirmation for its newfound determination to play the role of peacemaker. Moreover, having twice undergone peaceful transfers of power between governing parties, Taiwan's democratic system of government has demonstrated its growing maturity. We hope it can serve not only as an inspiration for other nations in this region, but as a beacon of freedom for Chinese societies everywhere.

After coming to office, we immediately moved to reactivate the institutionalized cross-strait consultations between Taiwan's semi-official Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and its mainland Chinese counterpart, the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS), which had been in hiatus for over a decade. This effort has so far produced two rounds of talks between negotiation teams led by SEF Chairman Chiang Pin-kung and ARATS Chairman Chen Yunlin—the first in Beijing in June, the second in Taipei in November and half a dozen formal agreements on issues of practical importance. These accomplishments constitute not only a significant breakthrough in the development of cross-strait relations, but a major step in fulfilling this administration’s promise to promote regional peace.        

Cross-strait reconciliation policies
Complex historical factors have given rise to a number of challenging disagreements between Taiwan and mainland China. Despite the ups and downs of cross-strait relations over the past six decades, the expansion of private-sector interactions has strengthened the common desire of people on both sides of the strait for peaceful development. This administration has therefore unceasingly worked to seize this historic opportunity to open up a window for dialogue that can foster the development of an environment conducive to conciliation and peace. In my May 20, 2008, inaugural address, I enunciated the imperative of maintaining the status quo under the framework of the Constitution of the Republic of China, meaning no unification talks with the mainland, no creation of an independent Taiwan republic, and no use of force to settle sovereignty issues—the stance that most genuinely reflects Taiwan's mainstream public opinion. In the address, I also called upon the two sides to face reality, create a new future, shelve disputes, and pursue win-win solutions, thus enabling us to strike a mutually beneficial balance as we pursue our respective interests.

Taipei's expressions of goodwill have met with pragmatic responses from Beijing. As illustrated by cooperation between the two sides in relief efforts for victims of the Sichuan earthquake, Taiwan's participation in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and arrangements for ensuring food safety, we have developed a greatly improved dynamic for interaction. Premised on the spirit of putting Taiwan first for the benefit of its people, our government has taken judicious steps to advance Taiwan's economic relations with mainland China while reducing confrontation and minimizing friction in international affairs so as to secure reasonable international space for Taiwan. We believe the two sides of the Taiwan Strait surely have the ability to join hands and apply our collective wisdom to the challenge of creating a new relationship based on peace, prosperity, dignity, reciprocity, and cooperation.

Replacing confrontation with consultation
Now, two decades since the SEF-ARATS dialogue mechanism was initiated, Taiwan needs to respond to the opportunities and challenges posed by the rise of mainland China and globalization by continuing to bolster its democracy, laying a firm foundation for sustainable economic development, advancing social equity, and fully integrating Taiwan into global frameworks for progressive interaction. Toward that end, this administration is pushing forward regulatory reform with the aim of creating a freer economic environment that will enable Taiwan to enhance its competitive advantages and dissolve barriers to development on all fronts. The relaxation of regulations concerning cross-strait exchanges implemented since May 20 exemplifies this government's dictum of deeply cultivating Taiwan with a global perspective. It is hoped that we can thereby reinvigorate our strategic economic role in the Asia-Pacific region.
The second round of the "Chiang-Chen Talks" held in November marks the first time that such a high-ranking mainland Chinese representative has visited Taiwan since the two sides separated six decades ago. During the talks, the SEF and ARATS delegations focused on economic and other issues central to the well-being of people on both sides of the strait, and signed agreements on sea transportation, air transportation, postal services, and food safety. Implementation of the agreements following and expanding upon the two agreements reached in Beijing in June is expected to greatly facilitate the cross-strait movements of Taiwan's citizens and significantly reduce shipping costs.
The alternation between Taiwan and mainland China as sites for the SEF-ARATS talks demonstrates the willingness of the two sides to conduct negotiations on an equal footing and to refrain from denying each other's existence and legitimacy, heralding a new era of cross-strait relations in which confrontation is replaced with dialogue.

Taiwan's security and international space
To fully embrace this historic opportunity and cultivate cross-strait peace in the spirit of humanity's quest for social harmony, the improvement of cross-strait relations must, in part, be manifested in mainland China's cessation of military intimidation and its respect for Taiwan's international space.
Mainland China's rapid military buildup has engendered concern regionally and globally. We solemnly call on the mainland authorities to give prudent consideration to the withdrawal of missiles deployed on the opposite side of the strait against Taiwan. Threats of resorting to force can only hinder the cultivation of harmonious cross-strait relations and peace in the Asia-Pacific region.
In order to lay down a solid foundation for lasting cross-strait peace, we will work to establish military confidence-building measures and create conditions favorable to the negotiation of a peace agreement. Concerning our international space, we will persist in upholding our principles of flexible diplomacy and observing a "diplomatic truce" with regard to antagonistic rivalry that undercuts opportunities for constructive participation in the global community. We hope in this way to encourage cross-strait cooperation in international organizations and contexts with a focus on contributing to global well-being. At the recent APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting in Lima, former ROC Vice President Lien Chan, who attended in my stead, engaged in constructive exchanges with members of the mainland Chinese delegation to explore possibilities for cooperation within the APEC framework. This is a significant step forward toward improving cross-strait interaction in international affairs, which, together with other examples of our flexible diplomacy policy, have won the affirmation of the global community. A recent US congressional report reiterates the consensus of US lawmakers that the United States should support Taiwan's meaningful participation in the specialized agencies of the United Nations, including the World Health Organization. Several other countries including Japan, Canada, Australia, and Singapore as well as the European Union have expressed similar support for Taiwan's participation in international affairs. We therefore urge mainland China to realize the wisdom of dispensing with zero-sum diplomatic tactics to squeeze Taiwan's international space, and take to heart the aspiration of our people to play their rightful role in the international community. It is our firm belief that taking such an enlightened path offers the best hope for the two sides of the Taiwan Strait to join hands in advancing the welfare of humanity and future prospects for lasting regional peace.

Taiwan's unwavering commitment to peace
Promoting peace and warmer relations across the Taiwan Strait is in the common interest of people on either side of the strait and, indeed, a common aspiration of people the world over. While the challenges ahead should not be underestimated, we nevertheless firmly believe that this quest deserves our most earnest efforts. For only in giving it our all can we fulfill our solemn commitment to work for regional peace and stability.

Editorial Comment

"Promoting peace and warmer relations across the Taiwan Strait is in the common interest of people on either side of the strait", writes ROC’s President Dr. Ma Ying-jeou in his article. He continues with the words that promoting peace is also "a common aspiration of people the world over". We think that this fact is difficult to refute. After 60 years, the power of the United States of America is no longer a guarantee for Taiwan's safety. The balance has changed: the People's Republic of China is, militarily, stronger then ever, while the hegemony of the US has shrunk and American Presidents have chosen to focus on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The President of the People's Republic of China warns the US to take better care of their financial and banking system in crisis: it is Chinese money that has to keep the world's richest country on its feet. China even dares to propose to create a global reserve system that would replace the US dollar as the main international currency. What will happen if the mainland's economy collapses completely? Hundreds of millions of poor Chinese are getting still poorer, while they never got any profit from the economic boom their country went through. Governments often look for an external enemy to calm a malcontent mass. The choice for Beijing will be obvious. Who is able to stop them?
 
After coming to office, one year ago, President Ma of Taiwan moved immediately to reactivate cross-strait consultation between his country and its mainland counterpart. It looks like he had several good reasons to do so.

N. Peter Kramer
Editor-in-Chief

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