President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday used his Double Ten National Day address to call on China to remove the more than 1,000 missiles aimed at Taiwan and said the most important missions of his administration were reform, innovation and the pursuit of justice.
“The mainland authorities have recently mentioned the possibility of removing missiles. We think it bears a positive significance for cross-strait ties and hope that it will become a reality as soon as possible,” he said in front of the Presidential Office, adding that he hoped to see this happen in a “hasty” manner.
Ma was referring to comments by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) in New York City last month, where he vaguely referred to the possibility of the missile question being resolved at some point.
Ma said that cross-strait relations have improved significantly and tensions across the Taiwan Strait have lessened since he took office in 2008.
However, he said that Taiwan could not pin its security solely on cross-strait detente, adding that it was necessary to develop defense capabilities and continue to purchase defensive weapons that the country could not produce.
The Republic of China (ROC), which was celebrating its 99th anniversary yesterday, is an independent, sovereign nation, Ma said, and his administration is conducting cross-strait negotiations under the framework of the ROC Constitution and on the basis of the [so-called] “1992 consensus.”
“Although at this stage the two sides of the Taiwan Strait cannot accord de jure recognition to each other, we should nevertheless adopt a pragmatic policy of de facto ‘mutual non-denial,’” he said.
Drawing a connection between Taiwan and China, Ma said everyone in Taiwan was a participant and contributor during the course of the ROC’s development.
“We cherish Taiwan and identify with the ROC,” he said. “We wish the best for Taiwan and want the ROC to flourish.”
Ma said the country would maintain the “status quo” of “no unification, no independence and no use of force” under the framework of the ROC Constitution. His administration would continue to uphold the principle of putting Taiwan first for the benefit of its people, safeguarding the ROC’s sovereignty and maintaining Taiwan’s dignity, he said.
Ma pledged to adopt a pragmatic and flexible approach and strengthen cooperation with diplomatic allies as well as other non-allied nations. These include the US, Japan, Southeast Asian nations, New Zealand, Australia and EU member states, he said, adding that his administration would work to sign free-trade or economic-cooperation agreements with trading partners.
On the need to reform government, Ma said some questioned whether this would cost his administration votes, but he did not agree.
“Taiwan is now in a race against time,” he said. “We cannot put off reform for the sake of winning elections ... Only reform can secure our future and only by securing our future can we win people’s hearts.”
Ma vowed to narrow the gap between rich and poor, saying it was equally important to have the fruits of economic development shared by the general public.
Economic development would not focus only on growth, but also on fairness, he said. To this end, his administration would continue to work on tax reform.
“Wherever there is poverty, our government will give caring attention and extend a helping hand,” he said.
Despite the economic recovery, Ma said there was considerable room for improvement in the social sphere, as well as on the environment, education and the judicial system.
On judicial reform, Ma said the Presidential Office would “immediately” establish a human rights consultative committee chaired by Vice President Vincent Siew (蕭萬長).
The committee would be composed of public officials and private citizens who would discuss and develop human rights policies and issue regular human rights reports, he said.
The judiciary must be independent, Ma said, but it must not be detached from the outside world or act against reasonable public expectations.
His administration is committed to eradicating graft and would not compromise with the forces of corruption, he said. On the environment, Ma said equal importance should be placed on environmental protection and economic growth.
“However, in the event that economic development will have a severe impact on or damage the environment, environmental protection should take priority,” he said. “We must improve the industrial structure as well as the current environmental impact assessment system, incorporating them as essential aspects of national land planning.”
On educational reform, Ma pledged to step up efforts to institute 12-year compulsory education and expand the tuition-free program for kindergarten children from offshore islands to Taiwan proper starting next year.
After the speech, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators lauded Ma’s announcement of a human rights commission, saying it showed the Presidential Office was determined to take action to safeguard freedom and human rights.
However, Democratic Progressive Party Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) called Ma’s human rights commission a “hasty improvisation” that was long overdue.
The commission was announced, she said, to balance some of the criticism levied at the president following his delay condemning China over its imprisonment of Nobel Peace Prize winner and political dissident Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波).
“Fundamental human rights are the most important element of any country,” Tsai said. “The president shouldn’t have waited almost three years after his inauguration to think of this issue. It’s something that he should have focused on since day one.”
Tsai’s did not attend the Double Ten National Day celebrations, nor did senior party officials. Instead, she stuck to her regular campaigning schedule.
What matters is not the ceremony, but whether Taiwanese are “truly” happy, she said.
“The national day festivities are a necessary ceremony, but underneath all this, what matters is … where the public’s true happiness lies. The main point is to have better policies to give the people greater happiness,” she said.
Tsai said Ma’s address was “disappointing” and the latest example of Ma governing the country through election slogans. What is lacking is actual policies that can be carried out, she said.
Additional reporting by Vincent Y. Chao and Flora Wang