Sat, Jan 23, 2010 - Page 3 News List

INTERVIEW: ECFA will help Taiwan catch up with Asia: Ma

President Ma Ying-jeou spoke with several ‘Taipei Times’ reporters in an interview at the Presidential Office on Thursday, expounding on his government’s plan to sign an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China. He tried to allay public qualms over the proposed pact, while emphasizing that an ECFA would be a crucial lever that would allow Taiwan to sign free-trade agreements with other countries

In the future, we will seek free-trade agreements by selecting countries that are easier to approach, as it will then be easier to make progress. We have been trying for many years. Taiwan has a small handful of trading partners. We will put them on our priority list because it will be less meaningful than signing free-trade agreements with other [non-allied] nations. But, we do not have to sign such agreement with all of them. We will be selective. We do not have to ink a trade pact with countries where it could have negative impact on some Taiwanese sectors, such as agriculture.

If we can take our first step now, however, it will help a lot. People may ask me: What is the haste? We have lagged behind our Asian peers for 10 years and we have to catch up, or our situation will worsen. Others might say that ‘ASEAN-plus-one’ will not pose a threat to Taiwan anytime soon. But, we have to be well prepared for their expansion to ASEAN-plus-two, or ASEAN-plus-three. As a political leader, I have to look at what Taiwan will face in next 10 or 20 years.

Signing an ECFA will also help Taiwan hit three major goals — being the world’s innovation center, the economic and trade hub of Asia and the headquarters of Taiwanese businesses. The trade pact with mainland China will strengthen Taiwan’s role in becoming the economic and trade hub in Asia as more countries will be interested in investing in Taiwan in light of its closer trade ties with the world’s No. 2 economy, mainland China [sic].

COMMUNICATION

Taipei Times: Lately, you have adopted different approaches to administrative affairs. First you took over as the KMT chairman despite your promise before the presidential election not to do so, and then you invited King Pu-tsung (金溥聰) back from the US to serve as KMT secretary-general. Your doubling as KMT chairman reminds people of the time when “a party leads the government” (以黨領政). What’s your opinion on that?

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九): I took over as KMT chairman on October 17 last year to improve the efficiency of the government through closer cooperation between the party and government bodies. As the KMT takes the reins of the government, the administrative body, and especially the more than 70 legislators from the legislative body, come from different backgrounds and share different views on public policies, and so integration of opinions becomes extremely important.

I realized that we didn’t do the job well, and it was necessary to enhance the [integration of opinions]. I didn’t have much time to tackle this issue when taking over as the chairman last year because of the elections, and so I expected us to demonstrate closer party-administration cooperation in handling major policies after [the legislative by-election] on Jan. 9.

It had worried me that the legislature failed to pass the amendment to the Local Government Act (地方制度法) during the legislative session, and it was not about saving our faces. We had to pass the amendment during the extraordinary legislative session because the special municipality elections would face great problems if the proposal failed to clear the legislature.

There are structural reasons behind the tradition of fistfights in the legislature, and I mentioned to legislators [on Wednesday] that we wouldn’t be able to fix the problem by making adjustments in regulations in a short time. Instead, we should do our homework and integrate different opinions within the party before negotiations.

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