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President Ma Interviewed by CNN

President Ma Ying-jeou was interviewed by Cable News Network (CNN) on March 24. Interview topics included ROC sovereignty in the South China Sea, cross-strait relations, the ROC’s mainland policy, and economic development.
The text of the interview follows:
Q. President Ma, welcome to the program. Let me start by asking you the news of the moment. Of course, there are quite a few countries in your neighborhood unhappy with your moves on the island in the Spratlys, particularly, Itu Aba. They are unhappy that you have been there and that this week you have taken a group of journalists including, of course, our own colleague as we have just seen in this report.
A: We organized this trip to Taiping Island for members of the international media mainly because we wanted everyone to understand its status in the Nansha Islands (Spratlys), and in particular, that it has an ample supply of fresh water, is suitable for agricultural production, and can sustain economic life of its own. We do not want Taiping Island, a part of ROC territory, to be downgraded to a “rock.” Therefore, I visited the island on January 28 of this year and then arranged the trip for international journalists, because we want the world to understand the truth, which we hope will no longer be misconstrued or distorted. I think this is very important. As president of the Republic of China, I have to do this.
Q. Mr. President, you say you have to do it and the facts are indisputable, but of course, as you know, there is a lot of dispute about the Spratly Islands. The Philippines are angry with you, Vietnam is angry with you, the United States called your visit there “extremely unhelpful to the situation,” so the question is: are you being provocative? Are you doing China’s bidding because it’s about the only country that hasn’t criticized you? So you are inviting the Philippines there as well?
A: The ROC recovered Taiping Island in 1946. At the time, neither Vietnam nor the Philippines raised any objections. ROC military personnel have been stationed on the island since 1956. We have exercised effective governance over Taiping Island for 60 years. It was only later that other countries laid claim to the island. They had not done so earlier. We have managed this island for so many years and the entire world is aware that it is ROC territory. From the historical perspective, as early as the 19th century, when the British navy sailed through the region, it knew that the island belonged to ethnic Chinese. The facts are very clear that others asserted their claims to Taiping Island much later. Sovereignty claims are one issue. But the trip was intended to serve a more important purpose, namely preventing other countries or the international tribunal from relegating the island to the status of a rock, which would be a huge error. Of course I wanted to take this opportunity to clarify this matter.
More importantly, no members of the international media had ever traveled to our islands in the South China Sea. This was the first time that we have allowed complete access to the only island in the Nanshas that has fresh water. This was very important. From news reports issued in countries worldwide following the trip yesterday (March 23), I believe that it has gone a long way toward clarifying the truth. If anyone still has doubts that Taiping is an island and not a rock, then we will do everything we can to arrange a visit for them.
As a matter of fact, I said publicly yesterday that I welcome the Philippine government to send representatives or its lawyers on a tour of the island. I also welcome the tribunal judges at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague to make a site visit, which is permissible under the rules of the arbitration court. Our purpose is very simple, and that is, to present the true picture to the world.
Q. Mr. President, this is obviously going to be what you will bequeath to your successor, President-elect Tsai, and we’ll see how it continues once you leave office. But I would like to ask you in the remaining two months of your presidency to reflect on why your party lost and to reflect on your reach out to China, your China policy, your trade pacts. That seems to have had a backlash inside Taiwan. Do you read it that way as well?
A: Of course there are people who, as you just said, oppose our mainland China policy, but they are in the minority. It was clear from the January 16 general election that the status quo we have established over nearly eight years has won the support of the majority of people. A public opinion poll conducted by the Mainland Affairs Council two days ago found that 86% of people are in favor of maintaining the status quo. This is also why all three candidates in the presidential election, whether representing the ruling or opposition parties, advocated upholding the status quo that we have built over the past seven-plus years. Because everyone called for maintaining the status quo, there was little debate on this policy during the election campaign. The position was taken for granted.
This was very interesting. In presidential elections in countries around the world, very few opposition candidates would want to maintain the status quo. They would call for change; otherwise, why would they run in the elections? On this issue, however, all the candidates supported upholding the status quo. Obviously they all realize that the status quo we have established over the past eight years meets Taiwan’s interests and is supported by over 80% of our people.
Q. So, “status quo” just to rephrase is the “one China” policy. Obviously, the new President has indicated that she, too, is in favor of supporting the status quo. However, her party, the DPP, which also swept by a landslide not just the presidency but also the legislative election, is much more pro-independence than the KMT, of course, which is your party. Do you believe that the status quo will continue under the incoming president or that there will be more party agitation to push for formal independence?
A: Let me make a slight correction to your question. Our policy is “one China, respective interpretations”; it is more than just a “one China” policy. This is very important. The two sides of the Taiwan Strait have different views on what “one China” entails. That is why we reached a consensus in 1992 that both sides agree that there is one China, but each will have its own interpretation of what it means that it can express verbally. For Taiwan, one China is of course the Republic of China. And our policy on “one China, respective interpretations” is a crucial factor in our establishment of the status quo over the past eight years.
As to whether the next president wishes to carry on this policy, she will offer an explanation in the future. We understand that for mainland China, the 1992 Consensus has provided a common political groundwork for the two sides to promote cross-strait relations in the past eight years, leading to the current achievement. If this common political groundwork did not exist, would we still be able to enjoy the status quo of peace, stability, and prosperity? We cannot say that we have no concerns regarding this, so we hope that the next president will be prudent in taking an approach that is beneficial to Taiwan and in line with the cross-strait consensus. Only then will we be able to avoid the many obstacles that may arise in the future development of Taiwan because of an uncertain cross-strait relationship.
Q. The new President has not actually said whether she will formally sign on to that 1992 Consensus that you speak about. How do you think mainland China President Xi is interpreting her election right now? What do you think he is thinking about this new president who has potentially slightly different views than you do when it comes to relations with the mainland?
A: During the past year, mainland China leader Xi Jinping (習近平) has on many occasions stressed that the 1992 Consensus is crucial. I believe that everyone understands that he most recently has continued to stress that mainland China’s attitude regarding the 1992 Consensus has not changed. I want to remind you here that the 1992 Consensus was not proposed by mainland China; it was proposed by our side in 1992 and was accepted and supported by mainland China. In other words, the 1992 Consensus is a cross-strait consensus developed on the basis of the Republic of China Constitution, and is not something they demanded of us and that we accepted; it is, rather, what we raised and they accepted. Therefore, it is in fact to our benefit, since under the premise of “one China, respective interpretations,” Taiwan has space in which to develop. This is why if the “one China” of “one China, respective interpretations” is the Republic of China, over half of the people of Taiwan support this policy. Therefore, we naturally hope that my successor can carefully consider approaches that support the 1992 Consensus. This would allow the cross-strait relationship to be very smooth and orderly, and allow Taiwan a better environment in terms of developing international relations and other aspects.
Q. Do you accept, though, that despite the feelings of the majority of the Taiwanese people that there is a new generation now feeling more nationalistic feeling more included to being a full-blown democracy as your country is going, as it is maturing from a dictatorship into a full-blown democracy. Do you believe that things might change in the future, or will it stay as it is right now?
A: I believe that the vast majority of people in Taiwan support a free and democratic political system, and hope that the ROC will maintain its freedom and democracy. However, in developing relations with mainland China, we have had to establish a bilateral consensus that allows this relationship to develop smoothly and peacefully. The experience of the past 20-plus years indicates that the best way to do so is for our proposal that year (1992) espousing “one China, respective interpretations” to continue to be maintained. In fact, even after this general election, as I just said, if the “one China” of “one China, respective interpretations” is the Republic of China, support in Taiwan is over 50%. Of course, among those who support it, many are young, since this is the most beneficial direction for Taiwan. Only in this way can the cross-strait relationship be maintained, and the peaceful development of cross-strait ties have a spillover effect. Improvement in our relationships with the United States, Japan, the European Union and ASEAN countries over the past nearly eight years is connected with this. Thus, the 1992 Consensus is not just between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait—it also has fundamental international significance.
Q. Mr. President, you had a historic meeting with the President of China Xi Jinping in Singapore. How was that? How did you feel meeting the president of mainland China? I believe it was the first time in nearly 60 years the two leaders had met. Did you call each other president? Was it a sort of meeting of equals or…? Describe it for us.
A: I met with the leader of mainland China, Mr. Xi Jinping, last November 7 in Singapore. This was the first such meeting since the two sides fell under separate governance 66 years ago. It was most meaningful in that the leaders of the two sides met disregarding national title or official title to try to achieve consensus on cross-strait peace and on how to maintain the status quo across the Taiwan Strait. This was designed to strengthen the 1992 Consensus. I think that was the most meaningful part.
It was not merely a symbolic meeting, as there were things we addressed including transfers via Taiwan by mainland passengers to other destinations; mainland polytechnic students coming to Taiwan for further study; and furthering negotiations on a trade in goods agreement. These are some of the things we achieved.
Moreover, I told Mr. Xi that the people of Taiwan did not accept the mainland’s military deployment against Taiwan and its international suppression of Taiwan. I told him I hope that the mainland would put forth concrete measures to improve the situation. I believe that each side was straightforward in raising issues at this meeting, hoping that the other side will work toward moving in a better direction. I think this was an excellent opportunity.
I have now built a cross-strait bridge of peace between the leaders of the two sides, a bridge future presidents of the Republic of China will be able to utilize to communicate at a high level with mainland Chinese leaders. I trust that this will be greatly beneficial to the people of Taiwan. Of course, this will require a certain degree of consensus on political groundwork.
Q. Mr. President, did you get the impression that President Xi would use all means necessary to keep Taiwan really part of China, or as others have suggested, that he will go along with what is increasingly a one-China fiction?
A: During our discussions, both Mr. Xi and I fully understood that conditions are not there for cross-strait unification. But I explained to Mr. Xi that “one China, respective interpretations,” did not mean “two Chinas,” “one China, one Taiwan,” or “Taiwan independence.” What we said is that within the parameters set by our Constitution, it can only be the Republic of China. These concepts, these expositions, have underpinned cross-strait relations very well over the past eight years, as both sides have been able to accept them.
Yes, mainland China wants unification with Taiwan; this is an idea they have never let go of. But why are they willing to engage us in peaceful development on the basis of the 1992 Consensus, rather than engaging immediately in peaceful or nonpeaceful means to achieve unification? It’s because they realize that if they did so, it would not be effective and would result in very serious consequences. However, they cannot help but reach this kind of agreement with us to create a foundation for both sides to develop in peace and prosperity.
Ms. Amanpour, probably you read the Economist article that appeared following this meeting, in which the authors said that this meeting marked the greatest concession on a core issue of sovereignty by mainland China since the 1980s. Possibly that is simply the Economist’s take on things, but many people also seem to think this way. In the past, no mainland Chinese leader had been willing to sit down with a Taiwan leader and have the two forget the names of their countries titles, forget their official titles, and simply call each other “mister” and chat for a couple of hours and reach a certain degree of consensus on concrete and theoretical issues. I think this is beneficial for Taiwan, the region, and the world. After my meeting with Mr. Xi, the US State Department immediately welcomed this development. The improvements we have seen in the cross-strait relationship have also played a major role over the past eight years in our improving relations with the United States. This was not, of course, the only factor, but improved cross-strait ties have also had some positive spillover effects. If we make the most of this, it will be good for Taiwan, the region, and the world. This is also why most commentaries on the Ma-Xi meeting have been positive.
【Source: Office of the President】