Mainland Affairs Council Chairwoman Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛) on Tuesday told the 38th annual Taiwan-US Conference on Contemporary China that the past year had brought “unprecedented” changes in cross-strait relations with profound and far-reaching implications.
“I personally believe that mainland China is gradually coming to recognize the values of freedom and democracy,” she said.
Lai said that this development would generate an “active and positive driving force” for elevating peace and well being both regionally and globally.
The conference, held at the Brookings Institution in Washington, was hosted by Brookings and Taiwan’s National Chengchi University.
“It goes without saying that cross-strait relations are the lifeline of Taiwan’s survival and development — they are also vitally connected to prosperity and stability in the Asia-Pacific region,” Lai said.
But in answering questions, she conceded that a “significant” number of Taiwanese still had “fear and doubt” that the government might sell out the country and undermine Taiwan’s sovereignty by being “too accommodating” to China.
She said, however, that while traveling and speaking to large numbers of opposition-party members, she was able to convince them “to a very, very large extent” that the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration is doing the right thing and not “in any sense, even for an inch” downgrading Taiwan’s sovereignty.
Lai said that during the former Democratic Progressive Party administration, the conflict and hostility in cross-strait relations not only imperiled Taiwan’s economy with marginalization but also posed a threat to the collective security of the Asia-Pacific region.
Under Ma, Taiwan had taken up the role of peacemaker and responsible stake-holder and was “no longer a troublemaker,” she said.
“We believe that cross-strait communications and dialogue are the key to our objectives and the past impasse in cross-strait relations was mainly due to preoccupation with the sovereignty dispute,” she said.
“In our handling of cross-strait relations, we are strongly advocating that both sides should put aside political controversies and pursue negotiations on the basis of mutual non-denial. This will enable us to step-up exchanges in the economic, cultural and social spheres, to pragmatically handle and solve the problems and to gradually build-up mutual trust,” she said.
She said that the Ma administration had never made concessions in negotiations with Beijing and had insisted that all talks be conducted on the basis of equality and with respect for Taiwan’s national dignity.
Economic and trade relations, Lai said, were the most important facet of cross-strait relations. They are also the least controversial, she added.
“Despite the recent big improvements in cross-strait relations, mainland China’s military deployment targeting Taiwan is still the biggest obstacle to the development of cross-strait relations and needs to be removed,” Lai said.
“Although studies on the issues of cross-strait military confidence-building measures and cross-strait peace agreements are being conducted,” Lai said, “the conditions are not yet ripe for addressing these highly political issues.”
Lai said that maintaining Taiwan’s defense capability was essential for maintaining peaceful and stable cross-strait relations “free from worry for its own security as the two sides proceed with reconciliation and closer interaction.”