Ma tells Hong Kong journalists it's all about the economy

By Mo Yan-chih  /  STAFF REPORTER

Wed, Jan 04, 2006 - Page 3

Peaceful cross-strait relations with policies that improve the economy and allow direct communications for people on either side of the Taiwan Strait would be better for the country's future, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) told a group of Hong Kong journalists yesterday.

Representatives from the Hong Kong Journalist Association paid a visit to Ma yesterday, who also serves as Taipei mayor. During the 40-minute meeting at Taipei City hall, the 17 journalists expressed great concern about cross-strait relations in the wake of the president's New Year address.

The group also called on Ma to strengthen ties between Taipei and Hong Kong.

President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) decision to tighten cross-strait policies and make constitutional engineering one of his priorities, Ma said, may have a negative impact on the country's economy.

"What people in Taiwan need now is a respite from the heat. They need the government to focus on improving the economy," Ma said.

The country has undergone seven constitutional revisions, Ma said, and the current Constitution is already applicable to Taiwan. He added that such frequent revisions are "indeed rare in the world."

Urging the government to put greater effort into fighting for Taiwan's economy, Ma warned that by 2010, China will sign a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with ASEAN. If by that time Taiwan hasn't integrated with ASEAN members, the country will have to pay higher tariffs, and therefore it may cause more companies to give up exports and invest directly in China instead.

While Ma said peaceful cross-strait relations with policies like the export of Taiwanese fruits to China would be better for Taiwan, Chang Ping-ling (張炳玲), chairwoman of the journalists' association, expressed concern about how former chairman Lien Chan's (連戰) "successful" visit to China had seemingly turned the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government into a mere figurehead.

In reply, Ma said the popularity that Lien enjoyed after his visit to China showed that Taiwanese people supported the policies, including the export of agricultural products to China.

"The DPP government, by opposing such policies, gave the opposition parties more room and increased popularity ? But there is still time for it to change its mind and win back the people's support," he said.

Ma said that allowing more Chinese to visit Taiwan would be important as it would help people understand each other, and ease cross-strait tensions.

Asked if he will revive the "Twin-city forum" that was held in Hong Kong in 2001, Ma expressed his willingness to either visit Hong Kong again, or hold the forum this year in Taipei and invited "friends from Hong Kong," such as Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang (曾蔭權), to join him in discussing environmental, educational and cultural issues.