President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday instructed the head of the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) to discuss the government's proposed economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China during cross-strait negotiations.
Ma met SEF Chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) and his delegation yesterday ahead of the third round of cross-strait negotiations between Chiang and his counterpart, Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林), in Nanjing starting tomorrow.
Although the controversial ECFA — which the Ma administration has likened to a free-trade agreement with no political strings attached — is not on the agenda of the talks, Ma yesterday told Chiang he expected the issue to be addressed.
Ma has said that if Taiwan does not sign such an agreement with China, it risks being marginalized and losing its competitiveness as China and neighboring countries are planning to sign free-trade pacts.
Critics, however, have warned that the agreement would jeopardize Taiwan's sovereignty, make it too economically dependent on China and lead to an influx of Chinese capital and goods.
Chiang and Chen are expected to sign three agreements to promote financial cooperation, change direct cross-strait charter flights into regular flights and establishjoint efforts to combat crime, as well as issue a joint statement on opening Taiwan to investment from China.
“The SEF and the ARATS have reached a consensus on the basic principles for cross-strait negotiations: We will carry out negotiations in a pragmatic manner and put the economy first,” Chiang told a press conference at the SEF office after his meeting with Ma at the Presidential Office. “The President also wants me to relay his greetings to the people on the Chinese mainland.”
Ma said he expected the cross-strait talks to address public livelihood issues, while at the same time voicing his support for Chiang.
“Cross-strait negotiations should seek to solve issues relating to people's livelihoods first. It's like doing a math quiz, and even elementary school kids know that we should pick the easy ones to answer first,” Ma said.
The president dismissed concerns about opening Taiwan's market to China, saying the government would also open the market to other countries.
He said the Mainland Affairs Council and the SEF had faced challenges and criticism for their work on pushing cross-strait ties. Ma lauded both Chiang and MAC Chairwoman Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛) for their contributions.
“I know Chairman Chiang feels wronged these days, but he has kept a positive work attitude and helped the third Chiang-Chen meeting proceed smoothly,” Ma said.
Local media have speculated that Chiang would be removed from his position soon following allegations that his son had obtained a special permit from China to sell steel.
The SEF delegation will arrive in Nanjing today. The Chiang-Chen meeting will start tomorrow, and Chiang will return to Taiwan on Wednesday. Other officials in the 22-member delegation include Deputy Minister of Justice Huang Shih-ming (黃世銘) and Financial Supervisory Commission Deputy Chairwoman Lee Jih-chu (李紀珠).
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) accused the Ma administration of selling out Taiwan's interests in exchange for closer cross-strait ties and yesterday warned the government against further concessions to Beijing.