Tue, Jan 17, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Put direct links to a referendum, researchers say

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTER , WITH AFP

The issue of direct links between Taiwan and China should be put to a referendum, experts at a forum on cross-strait relations said yesterday. Meanwhile, a newspaper survey said that the majority of Taiwanese backed direct links with China.

Experts on cross-strait relations debated the impact of direct transportation between Taiwan and China on the country's economy at a forum hosted yesterday by the Foundation on International and Cross-strait Studies, a non-profit research institution.

The issue of cross-strait transportation links has been highly controversial. Those in favor say the move would boost the nation's economy, while those opposed fear that it might "hollow out" the country's industries.

A majority of Taiwanese want the government to open direct trade, transport and postal links with China, a survey released yesterday showed.

Sixty-one percent of those polled by the blue-leaning Chinese-language daily United Daily News said they hoped the government would soon open direct links with China.

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has said Taiwan will only negotiate with China in a "government-to-government" capacity.

He has said his government prefers not to open direct transport links if they cannot be managed properly.

But Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) favors direct links with China and has proposed that a referendum be held to decide if direct links should be opened across the Taiwan Strait.

The United Daily News survey found that 67 percent of respondents supported Ma's idea, while 23 percent oppose it.

The survey of 1,116 people was conducted from Jan. 11 to Jan. 13.

Experts were divided as to the impact direct links would have on the country.

Kung Ming-hsin (龔明鑫), a research director at the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research, said that direct links wouldn't have a strong impact on the economy.

"The South Korean government's Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy once cited Taiwan as a negative example to show that the over-reliance on OEM [original equipment manufacturing] makes a country economically stagnant," Kung said.

The OEM production model has prevented Taiwan from differentiating itself from other newly developing countries, he added.

"While [other countries] progress in the development of technical innovation, Taiwan, comparatively, is losing its advantages and competitiveness," Kung said.

Kung said that the controversy was sparked by "class interests" and not "political position."

"Company owners support the issue in order to save transportation costs, and the general public, anxious about unemployment, stands on the opposite side," he said.

Since Taiwan's ban on direct civilian exchanges imposed in 1949, all merchandise has been shipped through third ports, mainly Hong Kong, and there are no direct flights or postal services.

Lin Chu-chia (林祖嘉), a professor of economics at National Chengchi University, however, rebutted Kung's argument, saying that people were against direct links because of inadequate information.

"The interests of the people are based on the interests of companies. If the companies fail to survive in Taiwan as a result of the ban on cross-strait direct links, it would not be a great benefit to the general public," Lin said.

Lin said that the implementation of direct links would encourage companies to keep their roots in Taiwan.

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