Tue, Jan 31, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Cross-strait stability vital to Australia, envoy says

LONG-TERM VIEW Now on his third stay in Taipei, Steve Waters has some suggestions for improving Taiwan's investment environment and trade relations

By Chang Yun-ping  /  STAFF REPORTER

The stability of cross-strait relations is vital to Australia's strategic interests in Northeast Asia, where five of Australia's top 10 export markets are located in this region, Australia's top representative in Taiwan said.

In a recent interview with the Taipei Times, Steve Waters, director of the Australian Commerce and Industry Office (ACIO) in Taipei said last Monday that five of Australia's top 10 export markets, including Japan, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, are located in close proximity to the Taiwan Strait, and therefore if anything goes wrong in the region, the Australian economy will be affected.

Along with the Korean Peninsula and the Middle East, Waters said the Taiwan Strait is also a recognized possible flashpoint in the world and therefore it affects the stability across the region.

"That's why we always tell the government here, as well as the government in Beijing, that we want to see continued stability in this region and we have total opposition to the use of any force in any way," Waters said.

Although Australia has built a reasonably sound relationship with China over the years in terms of growing economic relations and people-to-people contacts, there are still limitations in how close the bilateral relationship can be on the basis that there are differences in values, Waters said.

"Of course we have differences of views on a number of issues with China, in particular with questions of democracy and human rights ? and that have always affected the actual standing of our relationship," he said.

One such example Waters cited was Australia's resistance to China's pressure on allowing the performance by Taiwan's renowned Cloud Gate Dance Theater in the Sydney's Olympic Festival in 2000.

"We had to fight very hard for it to be in the Sydney Olympic Festival because Beijing disagreed. It was clear they [China] decided there was some sort of significance having the Taiwan culture as part of the Sydney festival. But we resisted that pressure," he said.

Currently Australia is Taiwan's seventh largest export market and Taiwan is Australia's 18th largest source of investment.

Discussing ways to improve Taiwan's investment environment, Waters said one necessary change is reducing bureaucratic red tape and loosening over-regulated financial restrictions.

He also urged greater Taiwanese investment in Australia, particularly in the energy sectors, amid the growing energy shortage in Taiwan in recent years and China's soaring energy demand.

He suggested the Taiwanese government to reconsider its energy procurement priorities by securing long-term supplies first, instead of focusing on prices.

"Traditionally, Taiwan has used the spot market to buy energy resources more than most other countries and the energy-purchase strategy has always been focused more on price rather than the supply," he said.

"Now with Taiwan running out of energy and the prices going very high, I think there is a need for its own resource security to perhaps reconsider the mix in this [price versus supply]," Waters said.

"It's particularly an important time when Beijing is expanding its economy and sucking up all the energy resources," he said.

Waters, 54, began his post as the Australian representative last July. He was the deputy head of the ACIO in Taiwan from 1993 to 1996 and has also served in Vanuatu and Hong Kong.

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