President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday urged China not to block Taiwan from signing free-trade agreements (FTA) and other pacts with other countries.
The remarks came a day after a Chinese foreign ministry official said Beijing “firmly objects” to Taiwan signing official agreements with China’s diplomatic allies.
The statement was seen a major embarrassment for Ma, who has repeatedly said that his administration’s plan to sign an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China would give Taiwan a better chance of reaching similar deals with other major trading partners, including the US and Japan.
Ma yesterday defended Taiwan’s right to sign FTAs as a member of the WTO and said his administration would intensify efforts to seek closer economic ties with other countries.
“It is our right as a WTO member to sign FTAs with other countries and we should not see interference when we exercise our right,” Ma, in his capacity as Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman, said at the party’s Central Standing Committee meeting.
Ma also defended the legitimacy of agreements the country signed with other countries and said economic, cultural and technical agreements signed with non-allies were all effective.
“The Republic of China is a sovereign country and has signed many agreements with many countries. The agreements are official as they are signed by the government,” he said.
At a separate setting yesterday, Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) said the government would move toward signing FTAs with other countries regardless of what China says.
“Under the directive of President Ma Ying-jeou, the government will do its very best to ensure the welfare and benefits of Taiwanese through globalization, by first making Taiwan a strong economic power and reaching out to other Asian countries,” Wu said. “Trade and commerce are the lifeline of Taiwan and this country, as a WTO member, is eligible to sign trade deals, pacts or agreements of any kind with other countries to strengthen its trade development and ameliorate the welfare and benefits of its people, regardless of any outside influence.”
KMT Legislator Lai Shyh-bao (賴士葆) of the legislature’s Finance Committee said Taiwan could still sign FTA-like agreements with other countries, while KMT Legislator Alex Tsai (蔡正元), another committee member, said Taiwan should seek to enter into FTAs with other countries as an economic entity while putting the sovereignty issue aside.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators, meanwhile, said yesterday that the statement from Beijing came as a “slap in the face” for Ma, who has been arguing that “the pressure and obstruction to our efforts to sign FTAs with other countries will be reduced” if a trade agreement with China is signed.
“China’s comments are further proof that President Ma has been lying to the public,” DPP spokesperson Lin Yu-chang (林右昌) said. “Taiwan should not rely on China as a window to the world.”
The DPP has instead called for cross-strait economic negotiations to be conducted under the WTO framework and said negotiations should be done on a country-to-country basis.
The comments from the Chinese foreign ministry were likely to provide additional ammunition to opposition parties, which claim that an ECFA should first be subject to a public referendum before becoming valid.