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Remarks by President Ma at Opening Ceremony of International Conference on Peace and Security in East Asia

Secretary General of the Office of President Timothy Yang (楊進添);

Secretary General of the National Security Council Jason Yuan (袁健生);

Senior Advisor of the National Security Council Francis Kan (甘逸驊);

Minister of Foreign Affairs David Lin (林永樂);

President Se-Hwa Wu (吳思華) of National Chengchi University;

Excellencies ambassadors and honorable representatives;

Representatives from academia;

Friends from the media,

Ladies and gentlemen: good morning!

I. Preface

It is a great pleasure to be here today with 15 representatives from 10 countries on four continents, as well as experts and scholars from Taiwan, to discuss efforts aimed at enhancing peace and security in our region and around the world.

The region we call home—East Asia—is one of the cradles of human civilization, and had some of the earliest and most advanced maritime and overland transportation and trade routes in the world. Following the Second World War, East Asia became a major battleground in the Cold War, and today the strategic importance of the region continues to grow. In particular, East Asia has become the engine of global economic growth, and momentum for regional economic integration is increasing rapidly.

However, a legacy of the Cold War still lingers in East Asia, that is, sovereignty disputes over certain islands and sea areas. Any miscalculation in these disputes could further increase tensions, and draw in the major powers. These disputes thus carry great risks for the region and the world. More recently, differences over air defense identification zones (ADIZ) have pushed airspace issues to the forefront in East Asia.

The Republic of China (Taiwan) is strategically located at the center of East Asia, and serves as a gateway between Northeast and Southeast Asia. It would therefore be deeply affected by any changes in East Asia's economic development, as well as possible conflicts in the region. At this moment, the world's attention is focused on security issues in our region, and all parties concerned are strengthening their military preparedness, aiming to project power as a way to deal with the crisis. As a responsible member of the international community, the ROC calls on all parties concerned to acknowledge the growing crisis, and put an end to the vicious competition that dates back to the Cold War. The ROC also urges parties to adopt rational and creative methods to contribute to peace and prosperity in the region.

II. Peace across the Taiwan Strait

Transforming the region from a situation marked by insecurity and conflict to one of peace and prosperity is not an impossible task. Indeed, history provides us with many valuable lessons. Europe, for example, has evolved from a continent characterized by centuries of constant war between its major powers to a model of regional integration. And the North Sea, which used to be a disputed area in which all countries concerned claimed sovereignty, has changed into a calm sea in which all parties share available resources, and from which the world-renowned Brent crude oil is produced.

Similarly, the Taiwan Strait, which in the past was considered to be one of the world’s main flashpoints, has developed into a symbol of peace and prosperity in a short period of only five years. The Taiwan Strait can now serve as an important reference for other regions affected by conflict.

Since I took office in 2008, I have actively pushed for rapprochement across the Taiwan Strait. Under the framework of the ROC Constitution, a status quo of "no independence, no unification, and no use of force" is being maintained, while peaceful cross-strait developments are being promoted based on the 1992 Consensus of "one China, respective interpretations." As of today, the two sides of the Taiwan Strait have concluded 19 agreements, covering a wide range of areas, such as trade, finance, transportation, social affairs, food safety, and mutual judicial assistance, all of which are closely related to people's livelihoods. For example, the number of scheduled cross-strait flights per day has increased from zero before I took office to 118 now. The number of visits to Taiwan by mainland Chinese tourists has increased nearly 10 times, from 290,000 in 2007 to 2.84 million last year. Moreover, the number of mainland students studying in Taiwan has grown from 823 in 2007 to 24,787 now, marking a 30-fold increase. Meanwhile, cross-strait trade, which stood at US$162.2 billion last year, along with cross-strait investments now worth a cumulative US$150 billion, have been further institutionalized and protected due to the signing of the Cross-Straits Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) and related pacts.

Two weeks ago, Minister of the Mainland Affairs Council Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) had a historic meeting with his counterpart, Minister of the Taiwan Affairs Office Zhang Zhijun (張志軍), in Nanjing. This marked the first official meeting between high-ranking officials in the 65 years the two sides have been separately governed. The two heads addressed each other by their official titles. It was therefore a significant milestone in the history of cross-strait exchanges. Important members of the international community have recognized the significance of the Wang-Zhang meeting. As of today, leading international media outlets have published 465 reports on the meeting, commenting that it is a tremendously positive development. Indeed, the direct interactions between high-ranking officials across the strait has both symbolic and substantive implications. The meeting reflected the enormous progress made in cross-strait relations, as well as the government's resolution in maintaining regional peace and prosperity. According to the latest opinion poll, over 60% of our citizens approve of the Wang-Zhang meeting.

III. Opportunities and challenges in East Asia

Cross-strait rapprochement has brought about stability. East Asia as a region now has one of the world's fastest-growing economies, and standards of living have also improved markedly. Aside from economic reforms, East Asian countries have been actively promoting regional economic integration, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), so as to create a favorable economic climate for the region's economic prosperity.

Yet even as East Asia has enjoyed stable growth and prosperity, and countries in the region have grown ever more interdependent economically, the regional security situation has not stabilized. Instead, tensions have been rising. Maritime claims in recent years have become a lightning rod for conflict.

The South China Sea is home to an abundance of natural resources and has an important strategic position. However, it has become a source of contention among different countries. The parties concerned have sought to strengthen their air and naval power, and step up development efforts. This has become a destabilizing factor for the region.

As for the East China Sea, recent contention over the Diaoyutai Islands began when the Japanese government "nationalized" them on September 11, 2012. Mainland China immediately took far-reaching and long-term countermeasures. It announced an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) last November 23 that encompasses most of the East China Sea, including the Diaoyutai Islands, and overlaps with other ADIZs. The move has triggered serious concern among the parties involved, and my government has expressed its firm position on the issue to mainland China as well.

IV. Call for peace by the ROC

Tensions in East Asia are extremely high. Concerned that conflict over the Diaoyutai Islands could affect stability in East Asia, I proposed the East China Sea Peace Initiative on the 60th anniversary of the coming into force of the Treaty of Peace between the Republic of China and Japan on August 5, 2012, calling on all parties to exercise self-restraint and refrain from antagonistic actions. I urged all parties to put aside conflict, remain committed to dialogue with one another, abide by international law, and find a peaceful resolution to areas of contention. All parties should seek consensus, create a Code of Conduct for the East China Sea, and explore ways to jointly develop resources.

The East China Sea Peace Initiative offers all parties concerned a creative way forward to find peaceful and rational solutions to disputes. Its importance has been recognized by prominent players in the international community, including the United States, Japan, and the European Union. In accordance with the principles put forward in the East China Sea Peace Initiative, the ROC government signed the Taiwan-Japan Fisheries Agreement last April, expanding Taiwanese fishermen's fishing grounds in waters surrounding the Diaoyutai Islands to cover an area twice the size of Taiwan. The agreement saw the sovereignty issue put aside, and ended 40 years of disputes over fishing operations. In this case, our belief that "sovereignty cannot be divided, but resources can be shared" has been put into action. In a similar vein, after the Philippine coast guard fatally shot a Taiwanese fisherman in May last year, the Philippine side officially apologized, provided compensation, punished the perpetrators, and initiated fishery talks with us. Our two sides were then able to reach a consensus in August whereby we both agreed to refrain from using force in law enforcement actions, to notify each other prior to such actions, and to promptly release detained fishing vessels and crews in case of arrest. The shooting incident was thus brought to peaceful conclusion. Then, in November, when the Philippines was hard hit by Typhoon Haiyan, causing more than 6,000 deaths, we immediately dispatched military planes and ships to deliver 680 tons of relief supplies and donated US$200,000 to the devastated areas, where they were urgently needed. These are concrete results of the ROC government's firm adherence to the East China Sea Peace Initiative and its principle of seeking resolutions to disputes through peaceful negotiations. Now is the safest and most peaceful time in 40 years for fishermen from Taiwan, Japan, and the Philippines operating in the East China Sea and South China Sea.

As for the ongoing airspace issues in the East China Sea, the ROC government would like to propose the following three points regarding the East China Sea ADIZ:

1. All parties concerned should abide by the principles of international law and seek peaceful resolutions to disputes, in the spirit of the East China Sea Peace Initiative, in order to ensure air space security, to safeguard freedom of aviation, and to promote regional peace.

2. Those parties with the overlapping ADIZs should initiate bilateral talks for solutions at the earliest possibility. Provisional arrangements may be taken whenever necessary to avoid conflict and misjudgment, and to reduce the impacts on freedom and safety of aviation.

3. To promote sustainable peace and long-lasting cooperation in the East China Sea and to enhance regional stability and prosperity, the parties concerned should, on the basis of mutual trust and reciprocity, jointly negotiate the formulation of an "East China Sea Code of Conduct" concerning both maritime space and airspace, and the creation of a multilateral regional negotiation mechanism.

V. Conclusion

Ladies and gentlemen, we are now at a crossroads that presents both opportunities and challenges. Whether East Asia moves forward on the path toward stability and prosperity, or becomes mired in chaos and turmoil, will depend on the level of wisdom and commitment that the leaders and peoples of the parties concerned base their decisions on.

I firmly believe that the recommendations made by the scholars and experts at this event will serve as important reference for our government's decision-making, and enable us to make important contributions to long-lasting peace and stability in the region.

Thank you!

【Source: Office of the President】