EXCLUSIVE MA YING-JEOU INTERVIEW: Nothing to fear from a CECA with Beijing: Ma

The government’s cross-strait policies have prompted concerns over the potential impact on Taiwan’s sovereignty. In an interview with staff reporters Huang Tai-lin, Ko Shu-ling and Mo Yan-chih and executive deputy editor-in-chief Charles Cheng on Wednesday, President Ma Ying-jeou responded to his critics, calling on the public to have confidence in Taiwan despite the obstacles it faces in securing participation in international organizations

Fri, Feb 20, 2009 - Page 1

Taipei Times: Do you think Taiwan is a normal country?

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九): The Taiwanese people elect their own president and legislature and govern themselves. Do you think that is normal or not normal?

TT: International recognition is also an important factor in defining a country.

Ma: Taiwan has 23 diplomatic allies and has 120 offices established in 87 countries. We enjoy substantive ties with those countries, so our relations with those countries are not any less than a UN member state enjoys. I don’t think it’s abnormal.

Of course, if you compare this with the 194 countries [in the world], some have worse conditions than we do, but they don’t think they are not normal. Every country is in a unique situation. As for Taiwan and the mainland, the special relationship has an impact on Taiwan’s international space. Because of this, I think it is important to normalize economic and trade relations with the mainland.

Our economic and trade relations with the mainland are very abnormal. Although we are both WTO members, many mechanisms have not yet been created. These include tariff exemptions, investment protection and double taxation.

That is why we have been negotiating these issues with the other side of the Strait recently. So, if you are referring to this aspect, we do need to normalize economic and trade ties with them.


TT: Are you referring to the CECA [Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement]? Could you elaborate? You said during your presidential campaign that the government needs to seek public consensus on major policies. This seems to run counter to recent remarks by National Security Council Secretary-General Su Chi [蘇起] who said signing a CECA is a set policy.

Ma: It is part of my election platform, which of course has to be implemented after I was elected. Regarding its content and how it should be signed, we are open to all kinds of suggestions.

TT: During your campaign, you also mentioned the “three noes,” which included no importing Chinese labor and no further opening the market to Chinese agricultural products. Would this change under the CECA?

Ma: No.

TT: During the two-way deregulation of industries, will the government target certain businesses?

Ma: Normalizing trade and economic relations with the mainland does not necessarily mean allowing Chinese labor or letting more Chinese agricultural products to enter the local market. Actually, when the Democratic Progressive Party [DPP] was in power, they sanctioned importation of more than 100 Chinese agricultural products.

When we sign a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement, the interests of local industries must be taken into account. What is supposed to be protected should be protected, and what is supposed to be free should be freed. We will deal with the matter carefully.

TT: Will the government seek a public consensus via a referendum?

Ma: Such an agreement must be sent to the legislature, according to Article 5 of the Act Governing Relations between the Peoples of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area [台灣地區與大陸地區人民關係條例].

TT: The four agreements signed last year between the Straits Exchange Foundation and China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait [ARATS] were not reviewed by the legislature, but took effect automatically. It seems the public’s voices were not reflected.

Ma: No, that is a different matter. Do you know Article 5 of the Act Governing Relations between the Peoples of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area? It states that all treaties that require legal revision or legislation must be reviewed by the legislature.

Cross-strait direct transportation links are regulated by Article 95.1. In other words, because the agreements did not require any legal amendment, they automatically took effect when the legislature failed to review them within one month.

The economic pact is regulated by Article 5. Once it is signed, it must be approved by the legislature. It cannot be implemented if the legislature doesn’t approve it.

TT: But in view of the current political makeup of the legislature, it seems the opinions of the opposition and the public are not well represented.

Ma: I don’t think so. The voices of the 27 DPP legislators sound pretty loud to me.

TT: Many people, however, question whether lawmakers are truly reflecting public concerns, or merely their parties’ stances. And some have also wondered whether the government, in its negotiations for a CECA, is listening only to the voices of big companies and such, not the public.

Ma: What we have is a representative system. If you want to change it and decide everything via referendums, it will be very hard for the government to operate. I don’t think such a system exists in the world. So it needs to go through the legislature, which represents the people and is elected by the people. If you do not think the legislature can represent the people, how do you expect the system to work?

TT: You said during the presidential campaign that all major government policies must be supported by public consensus and that referendums are one option in soliciting public opinion. Are you now ruling out referendums as an option?

Ma: Do you think direct transportation links are a major issue? Many polls show that 60 percent of the public supports the initiative, but do you think it is necessary to hold a referendum?

A referendum is an option, but it is not the only option. Referendums are time-consuming and expensive. A referendum costs about NT$300 million [US$8.8 million], or NT$500 million to hold. It also takes time to promote. If the government were to hold a referendum for every major policy, it would be very hard for the government to operate. We simply cannot hold a referendum because some people are against a government initiative.

TT: You just mentioned opinion polls. Do you think opinion surveys can replace referendums? They poll only a small pool of people.

Ma: So you think opinion polls are not credible?

TT: You’ve always said opinion polls are for reference only. Are you saying now that opinion polls can be used in deciding a major government policy or issues pertaining to the national interest?

Ma: It is more reliable if there is more than one opinion poll conducted by different institutions over a period of time.

It is like a blood test. While only 1 percent of your blood is needed for the test, it is impossible to take all the blood out of your body. Opinion polls must be conducted in a modern and scientific manner. However, opinion polls are not absolute. They cannot solve all problems, but referendums sometimes are not the best remedy.

More importantly, the thresholds for a referendum are so high that many referendums have failed in the past.

TT: So what you mean is that to seek a public consensus on the CECA, opinion polls are the best option before such an agreement is signed. Once it is signed, it must be approved by the legislature.

Ma: Yes, as long as the polling questions on normalizing economic and trade relations with mainland are not designed to encourage the public to give the pollsters the answers they want, I believe most people will support it.

Many people expressed concern that once direct cross-strait transportation links were established, the door to Taiwan would be wide open and infiltrated by the mainland. However, many polls show that about 65 percent to 85 percent support the four agreements signed last year. All in all, more than 60 percent of the public supports the initiatives.


TT: Is there any risk involved in signing the CECA? Will it belittle Taiwan’s sovereignty?

Ma: What do you mean by belittle Taiwan’s sovereignty? Do you mean that Taiwan will be ruled by the Chinese Communist Party [CCP] or controlled by the CCP? I want to be clear on your question.

TT: Chinese President Hu Jintao [胡錦濤] has said that they would push for the CECA with the condition that it is under the framework of “one China.”

Ma: Then what framework do you think we should accept?

TT: Then, Mr President, do you mean you will accept the “one China” framework?

Ma: The Republic of China [ROC] Constitution was enacted in 1946 and implemented in 1947. The communist China was not yet established. It was not established until 1949.

There was only one China when the ROC Constitution was enacted. So the ROC Constitution was not for “two Chinas.”

TT: But do you think Hu’s “one China” refers to the “ROC” or the “People’s Republic of China”?

Ma: No matter what he thinks, we think “one China” refers to the ROC. This is what we insisted in 1992 and we have never changed that position since.

TT: But does the explanation that “one China” refers to the ROC conform to the international reality?

Ma: If we do not interpret it this way, do you think we should say “one China” refers to the “PRC”?

Do you remember when former [US] president George W. Bush talked to Chinese President Hu Jintao on March 26 last year, Hu said over the telephone that both sides of the Taiwan Strait accept the “one China” principle but have different interpretations of “one China.” That is what we call “one China, with each side having its own interpretation.” That is the only interpretation according to our Constitution.

TT: But apart from Taiwan’s allies, all countries think Beijing is the only representative of China.

Ma: If we agree with those countries, there is no room for Taiwan to survive.

TT: So, if we are to sign agreements, including the CECA, under Hu’s so-called “one China,” would it be tantamount to acknowledging to the many countries that have diplomatic ties with China that we belong to the PRC?

Ma: That depends on how you look at it. It means that whatever agreements we sign with the mainland, we will run into this issue. So, then, should we not sign anything? And if we don’t sign anything, how can we develop relations?

Taiwan’s investment in mainland increased most rapidly in the past eight years under the former DPP government. With such an increase in investment, is it pragmatic for us not to sign anything with it now?

TT: But the problem is, with its advantageous position in the world, China promotes its version of “one China” to the international community — and that “one China” is the PRC — and this puts us at a disadvantage because China outnumbers us in terms of allies.

Ma: Why are you so lacking in confidence? With freedom, democracy and openness in Taiwan, I don’t think we would be in a disadvantageous position.

TT: Some say that we are too naive on the “one China” issue. It’s not a matter of confidence, but a matter of international reality.

Ma: If we refuse to sign agreements, our products will be taxed with higher tariffs in mainland and local industries will not survive. Is this less naive?

TT: Will there be any supplementary measures to protect Taiwan’s sovereignty and national interests if the CECA is signed?

Ma: Take the agreement on cross-strait direct flights, for example: What did we lose by signing the agreement? We opened eight airports [to the flights], while mainland opened 11 airports and later upped it to 21 airports for cross-strait direct flights.

What did we lose? Did we consider it a domestic route? Or is it a special air route? Did we say that Taiwan became part of the PRC after signing the agreement? No, we never made such claims.

We should have confidence in ourselves. Communist China has its own assertions and we have ours. We cannot force it to accept our assertions at this stage and it cannot force Taiwan to accept its ideas either. As to how the international community perceives the [“one China”] issue, it depends on the stances of different countries. Some countries agree with us, and our allies won’t think Taiwan becomes part of communist China when it signs an agreement.

Those who are familiar with international relations know that major countries recognize the CCP as the only legitimate government of China when establishing diplomatic ties with communist China, but when it comes to the relations between communist China and Taiwan, those countries do not consider Taiwan a part of the PRC. There are several models adopted by different countries in this matter.

For example, Canada has used the term “takes note of” in response to communist China’s assertion [that Taiwan is part of China]. The US and England have said they “acknowledge” the assertion and Japan has said it “understands and respects” the assertion, rather than using the term “accept.”

The 1992 consensus and “one China, with each side having its own interpretation” are not Taiwan’s [model] alone. Almost all major countries that have established ties with communist China have different interpretations of the one China principle. How would they develop relations with us otherwise?

Does the US need communist China’s agreement to send someone to Taiwan? No, they don’t. So you need to understand that although these countries do not recognize us officially, they do not deny us, either. If they denied us as a country, why would they send people here and develop relations with us? The US sold weapons to Taiwan. Does the US think it is selling weapons to a ghost country?


TT: Your administration adopted a “diplomatic truce” policy for foreign affairs. Does China acknowledge this policy?

Ma: There are a lot of policies communist China has put in place but didn’t say so [formally]. For example, it wanted to refer to us as “China Taipei” during the Beijing Olympics last year, but we insisted on using “Chinese Taipei.”

On the issue of the International Olympic Committee [IOC], an agreement signed between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait in Hong Kong in 1989 stated that the title of the Taiwanese Olympic team within the scope of the IOC should be “Chinese Taipei,” and so we followed this protocol at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and at the Athens Olympics in 2004.

We opposed communist China’s attempt to change our title at the Beijing Olympics and negotiated with communist China. Although it did not make an announcement, it stopped using the title of “China Taipei” later.

The so-called diplomatic truce means to not engage in unnecessary vicious attacks against each other. However, it doesn’t mean that we will stop strengthening relations with allies and other countries. We are seeking visa-free entry from the US and work holidays from Japan. We continue to strengthen ties with our allies and enhance pragmatic relations with non-allies.

What we aren’t pursuing is fruitless efforts, such as striving for allies through vicious attacks. When the former DPP government was in power from 2000 to 2008, we got three small allies, but at the same time lost nine big allies. The DPP government’s “beacon diplomacy” cost us six allies in total, so why should we continue such a policy?

What Taiwan needs is a good international image rather than a bad international reputation. Taiwan should be a peacemaker rather than a troublemaker.


TT: You just mentioned Taiwan’s international image. Following the visit of ARATS Chairman Chen Yunlin [陳雲林] and events that took place during his stay, a number of international organizations such as Amnesty International and Freedom House expressed concerns about democratic regression in Taiwan. What are your thoughts on this?

Ma: There is some criticism, but as Freedom House mentioned at its press conference, it would not change its evaluation on Taiwan based on a single incident. The Chen Yunlin incident is not an isolated incident. The earlier incident with [ARATS Vice Chairman] Zhang Mingqing [張銘清] had made the police very nervous and so the confrontations were heightened. Otherwise it would have been unnecessary to station such a heavy police force during Chen’s visit.

TT: What about the police clampdown on people who carried national flags?

Ma: It was a misunderstanding. We never asked the police to clamp down on our national flag.

TT: But footage from TV news showed that a lot of those people were carrying national flags outside of the restricted areas.

Ma: No, they were inside the restricted areas. Some were on the bridge and the police were worried that they would throw the flags onto the road. I had made my points clear on TV, and if any police dared to clamp down on national flags, I think they were looking to get punished.

TT: But some people passing by with national flags were arrested.

Ma: From what I’ve seen on TV, those who were arrested were in restricted areas or threw flags during fights. A key point in the Assembly and Parade Act [集會遊行法] is that the law does not regulate the content of the protests. It only regulates the time, the place and the form of the protests.

TT: Maybe the footage you saw was different from what we saw.

Ma: Maybe so, but our policy is very clear. After I heard about [the ban on national flags,] I went on TV to explain that I would never clamp down on the national flag. Besides, when Chinese visitors come to Taiwan, organizations with national flags inside the building don’t need to take the flags away. On the other hand, buildings with no national flags inside don’t need to put the flags there.

TT: We do not use the title “ROC” in international organizations and this is contradictory to the “one China” principle because the concept of “one China, with each having its own interpretation” called for mutual acknowledgment, with China as the PRC and Taiwan as the ROC. But Beijing has not acknowledged the ROC or Taiwan in the international community and our participation in international organizations under their conditions amounts to recognizing its “one China.”

Ma: When Taiwan entered the WTO in 2002, the former DPP government used “Chinese Taipei” as the title. The DPP government could have chosen not to participate in the organization, but do you have a better choice? If we could solve the problem using the title “Taiwan,” we would use it.

Participating in international organizations under the title of “Taiwan” or “ROC” may have been possible in the early years, but it has become much more difficult now. That’s why we have to come up with a pragmatic and flexible title so that we can maintain national dignity and at the same time achieve the goal of meaningful participation in international organizations. This is the challenge for our diplomacy, and the DPP encountered the same difficulty when it was in power. The former government did not solve the problems. Instead, they created a lot of trouble.

TT: Since you took office, however, the general impression of the international community is that Taiwan has accepted China’s “one China” framework. Customs in some countries even use “Taiwan, a province of China” when addressing Taiwan.

Ma: We have never recognized such a title; that was communist China’s assertion. Some countries may adopt the title to pander to communist China, but we do not recognize such a title.

Don’t feel like we’ve been swallowed by communist China because the sovereignty of the ROC has not been damaged. Give me one example of Taiwan’s sovereignty being damaged. Have we lost the freedom to make decisions? Are we governed by the other side? Such things have not happened.

We joined the WTO under the title “Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu.” If the former DPP government insisted on entering the WTO under the title “Taiwan,” it would not have joined the WTO. Could they do that? They couldn’t.

Again, if the DPP insisted on entering APEC under the title “Taiwan,” it wouldn’t have joined the organization.

Should we insist on our sovereignty in this way? That is not an insistence on sovereignty, but an insistence on the [specific] title. If we insisted on all occasions and withdrew from all organizations, we’d be besieged in Taiwan now. Would our sovereignty be upheld or shrink that way?

What we are doing now will make the world see Taiwan and we can have meaningful participation in the world.

TT: You have said that freedom and democracy are a common language across the Taiwan Strait. What do you think about China’s performance in these areas?

Ma: Of course there’s still a lot of room for improvement. On our part, I am pushing for the passage of two human rights conventions: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic and Cultural Rights. Communist China signed these two conventions 11 or 12 years ago and so I expected us to pass the two conventions as soon as possible.

The two sides of the Taiwan Strait should compete with each other in protecting human rights, democracy and freedom.

TT:Although China signed the conventions, in reality it oppresses the Falun Gong, Tibet and human rights activists, for example.

Ma: For communist China, there’s a lot of room for improvement in terms of human rights and democracy.

Even so, we still need to develop relations with communist China so it has the opportunity to learn from other countries. We don’t want to avoid communist China.

Instead, we want to push it to change through developing relations. It’s unnecessary to worry about Taiwan’s democratic society being affected by developing relations with communist China.

I have full confidence in Taiwan.

TT: After taking office, you opened the country to Chinese visitors and implemented cross-strait direct links. But the number of visitors is far less than expected and your approval ratings have fallen from 50 percent or 60 percent to 20 percent or 30 percent. You’ve paid heavy political capital for cross-strait policies. What are your thoughts on this? Will you change your policies?

Ma: We are in control of all the cross-strait policies and both the bad economy and my low support rate are not a result of my cross-strait policies.

In fact, cross-strait policy is the most popular of all of my policies. We need to further open the Taiwan Strait regardless of the economic situation.

Take sea transportation for example. Do you think we are a normal country if our ships are required to make detours to a third country and pay 30 percent to 40 percent more in total?

Cross-strait relations have not caused the economic slump, and yet some media outlets have misunderstood the whole thing.

I think the public knows that the situation is not like what some media portray.

TT: Does Taiwan depend on China too much economically?

Ma: It has been so since the former DPP government and our economic growth rate increased rapidly during that period of time.

The DPP government proposed proactive management and effective liberalization and also proactive liberalization and effective management, and it still failed to take control of the country’s economy.

The economy cannot be controlled fully by politics.

We will take economic measures to solve economic problems with less politics and ideology.

So far we have not seen any attempts by communist China to force Taiwan to do things we cannot accept and we wouldn’t have to accept it if they did so.