President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) pledged in his New Year’s Day address yesterday to maintain peace across the Taiwan Strait and called on Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平), China’s next leader, to work with him in promoting peaceful cross-strait development.
“The people on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are all ethnic Chinese, and the leaders of the two sides should keep long-term peace across the Taiwan Strait as a top priority. The institutionalization of cross-strait ties will help deepen mutual understanding between the people and consolidate cross-strait peace,” he said at the Presidential Office.
Stressing that the nation will continue to play a constructive role in promoting peace in East Asia, Ma said he hoped to cooperate with Xi to promote cross-strait peace on the basis of the so-called “1992 consensus” and promised to relax restrictions on Chinese investments while further opening up the nation to Chinese students and individual Chinese tourists.
Ma reiterated that the government’s top priorities were to speed up negotiations under the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) and begin a review of the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (兩岸人民關係條例) to facilitate cross-strait exchanges.
The president outlined four challenges facing Taiwan — global industrial competition, formation of regional free-trade zones, a shortage of talent and the impact of an aging population on the pension system — and promised to find solutions and lead the nation forward.
“The global economy is beginning to show the first signs of recovery, and Taiwan’s economy will definitely perform better than last year. It is crucial for us to make the most of this opportunity to speed up reform and strong measures must be taken to meet the four challenges,” he said.
As global industrial competitions grows, Taiwan’s technology sector and original equipment manufacturing (OEM) business model face increasing difficulties. A structural transformation of industries is needed to maintain Taiwan’s international competitiveness, he said, stressing the importance of local industries embracing value-added innovation to turn the nation into a major provider of key components and precision equipment in the global supply chain.
Ma also expressed concern about the nation’s marginalization in regional free-trade zones as talks on the ASEAN-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership are set to begin early this year. In addition, China, Japan and South Korea are preparing for formal talks on the East Asia Free Trade Area in March or April, while the US continues to promote the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
The government will step up efforts to build Taiwan into a free-trade island and seek to sign free-trade or economic pacts with major trade partners, including Singapore, New Zealand and the US, as well as join the TPP within eight years, he said.
The president also promised to solve a shortage of talent in various industries by launching industry-academia cooperation projects to cultivate workers that industries need.
As to the thorny issue of pension reform, Ma said the system would suffer a deeper deficit in the near future because of a low birthrate and an aging population, and called for more public cooperation, tolerance and understanding of proposed reform measures, especially for year-end bonuses for retired civil servants, military personnel and public-school teachers.
“We aim to make comprehensive, pragmatic and transparent improvements to our pension systems. Only by starting pension reform now can we come up with a fairer system that takes care of the needs of future generations,” he said.