Go TO Content

President Ma meets delegation of the media from Europe and US stationed in Asia

During a meeting recently with a delegation of the media from Europe and the US stationed in Asia, President Ma Ying-jeou discussed such issues as Taiwan's relations with mainland China, the US and Europe, the development of Hong Kong's democracy, as well as the state of affairs in East Asia.
The delegation included Correspondents Benjamin Carlson of the US-based GlobalPost, Jes Randrup Nielsen of Denmark's Jyllands-Posten, and Johan Nylander of Sweden's Dagens Industri.
A transcript of the interview follows:
Q1: Xi Jinping is a strong leader and in many respects takes a hard line on Taiwan and the region. Please provide an assessment of Xi Jinping's attitude and whether it poses a great threat to Taiwan's security. (Benjamin Carlson)
A. Six years ago, when we started to focus on improving cross-strait relations, we stressed that the process would need to adopt a step-by-step approach. In particular, the two sides have signed 21 agreements over these past five or six years, but there is ample room for us to make further improvements. Therefore, we still emphasize taking an orderly and meticulous approach so as to keep cross-strait relations from spinning off track.
Let me elaborate a bit. In our 20 years of efforts to engage with mainland China, our Mainland Affairs Council has conducted polls on whether relations are developing too fast, too slow or just right. Thus far, the vast majority of people consider that the pace has been just right, with the numbers of those offering different opinions varying to an extent. For instance, prior to the student protests this March, some people thought that progress was too slow, and others thought too fast. After the student protests, the number of people thinking that progress was too slow decreased, while the number of those thinking that progress was too fast increased, with the majority of people still of the opinion that cross-strait relations were advancing at the right speed. In other words, our current tempo meets the expectations of the majority of the people of Taiwan.
Q2: What is your opinion on the leadership style of Xi Jinping? (Benjamin Carlson)
A. He indeed has maintained a somewhat high-handed posture, but fundamentally we consider that, as cross-strait relations have developed steadily, we will maintain the current tempo and speed. From my experience in cross-strait relations over the past 20 years, I feel that the process is like mountain climbing. Although one cannot move quickly, after several years one can look back and see the high altitude attained. The 1992 Consensus was reached 20 some years ago. I pushed for that while at the Mainland Affairs Council. Previously the consensus was not adopted as a guiding principle for conducting cross-strait relations. After assuming the presidency, I started actively implementing the 1992 Consensus, allowing us to make even greater inroads and surpassing our expectations in various respects. As this method is in the interest of the people of both Taiwan and mainland China, there is no need to accelerate progress or deliberate on certain issues for which people in Taiwan are as yet unprepared.
Q3: How should Taiwan view the Occupy Movement in Hong Kong? (Jes Randrup Nielson)
A. For Taiwan, when the "one country, two systems" formula was raised by mainland China in 1982, President Chiang Ching-kuo made clear that this would be unacceptable. He stated that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait should instead seek a single feasible system, countering with a "one country, under a better system" formula espousing freedom, democracy, and prosperity for all. Our position has never wavered over the years.
Mainland China raised the one country, two systems concept, which was repudiated by Taiwan yet unexpectedly adopted in Hong Kong. Promises were made regarding self-rule for the people of Hong Kong, a high degree of autonomy, universal suffrage in electing the chief executive, and Hong Kong remaining unchanged for 50 years. Current developments clearly show that many people in Hong Kong believe that the initial promises have not really been kept.
The people of Taiwan have been paying close attention to the developments in Hong Kong, not because they believe that Hong Kong's situation has any relevance to Taiwan, but because they want to see whether Beijing will honor its initial promises. Taiwan and Hong Kong are completely different cases, so we do not fear that Taiwan will become a second Hong Kong.
On a tour of southern China, Deng Xiaoping stated that it would be all right if some people get rich first. This year on our National Day, I asked why they should not "let some people go democratic first," too. We support the democratic movement in Hong Kong, but we oppose the use of force to attain this goal. I adopted the same stance regarding the student protests here in Taiwan.
Q4: Taiwan hopes to improve economic relations with mainland China but avoid becoming too dependent on it, which could compromise sovereignty. Some student protestors also expressed concern that cross-strait relations are developing too quickly. How do you think that balance can be maintained in the development of cross-strait relations? (Johan Nylander)
A. With regard to striking a balance, cross-strait economic relations grew the fastest during the eight years under DPP rule prior to my inauguration. From 2000 to 2008, the share of exports to mainland China and Hong Kong jumped from 24% to 40%. However, after I took office, the percentage not only stopped growing, but actually fell to 39%. In the meantime, the value of exports to mainland China grew from US$120 billion to US$160 billion. In other words, while cross-strait trade has increased, the percentage of our exports going to the mainland has decreased because we understand that if the share of exports to mainland China and Hong Kong went too high, it could cause problems. For this reason, we started to diversify our export markets. Take ASEAN countries, for example. Our exports to ASEAN countries grew from 15% to 19% of our total exports, helping us to better balance our trade.
Q5: How do you view US President Obama's "rebalance to Asia"? Has the US government been neglecting Taiwan? (Benjamin Carlson)
A. My feeling is that East Asian countries, along with Southeast Asian countries, for the most part support the US "rebalance to Asia" policy because, in terms of security issues, they tend to rely on assistance from the United States. However, for many of these countries, their trade with mainland China now exceeds that with the United States, producing some aftereffects. In terms of security, they hope to engage in cooperation with the United States; in terms of economic issues, they cannot avoid working with mainland China. Of the 23 countries neighboring mainland China, 17 have mainland China as their largest trade partner. These countries now also have their own rebalancing policies. As for the ROC, we play the role of peacemaker in the region. In this manner, we are essentially in line with US policy and receive encouragement from the United States. On the other hand, our improved relations with mainland China have brought about increased trade, investment, and cultural exchanges, which also have been lauded by the United States. In the past 35 years or perhaps even since 1972, so long as the two sides of the Taiwan Strait adopt peaceful resolutions to disputes, the United States has not held any preconceived stance on the actual outcome. Thus far, both the Republican and the Democratic administrations for the most part have greatly supported the cross-strait policy adopted by the ROC, as they understand that we have a good grasp of the situation.
Q6: In the past, Taiwan-EU relations have encountered various hurdles. Are you satisfied with the two sides just entering economic-related agreements or do you hope to take things a step forward by signing political-related ones as well? (Johan Nylander)
A. As European countries are geographically distant from us, in terms of our regional security or strategic considerations, they are less involved than the United States. The development of Taiwan-Europe relations over the past several decades has shown that there is plenty of room for growth in our exchanges with respect to trade and investment, science and technology, and culture. Some of you might not realize that Europe as a whole is Taiwan's largest source of foreign investment.
At the same time, Europe is very sensitive regarding politically charged issues. Thus, there is greater room to build up our economic, trade, cultural, scientific, and technological ties. It could be that the two sides are not yet prepared to focus on non-economic political issues. However, as we concurrently improve our economic relations with Europe and our relations with mainland China, more and more European countries will want to further advance their relations with Taiwan, which we would greatly welcome.
As one of you just mentioned, I still cannot make a state visit to Europe, but transits for me in Europe have been relaxed greatly, and restrictions on my activities when transiting have been loosened to a large extent. The main reason is that these countries can sense that the atmosphere surrounding cross-strait relations has vastly improved. More importantly, the ROC has an extremely responsible government in that we do not abuse this hard-won freedom and relaxation of restrictions. Instead, we carefully manage our bilateral relations, thereby further fostering mutual trust between Taiwan and EU countries.
Our attitude toward the United States, Japan, and ASEAN countries is the same. We have continued to show that the ROC is a prudent and responsible country that keeps its promises, thus generating even more trust among foreign leaders. Of course, I hope that EU countries will open up to Taiwan even further in a wide range of fields. As I just mentioned, first, we are responsible and trustworthy, and second, the opening of doors is good for both sides.
At the same time, I would like to reiterate my appreciation to the European Union for offering visa waivers to the people of Taiwan three years ago. In all, 28 countries and their offshore territories, for a total of more than 30 jurisdictions, started offering ROC nationals visa-waiver treatment, providing our people greater freedom when traveling. One could say that this step taken by the European Union is extremely important. Although some European countries no longer receive visa fees, and this has been a great loss in some cases, the increased revenues from Taiwanese spending money in Europe have already offset this sum. This is because our people not only appreciate European culture and society, but are also very avid shoppers.
Q7: Can China adopt democracy and learn from Taiwan? (Johan Nylander)
A. We have never wistfully thought that mainland China would become democratized quickly. All our efforts in Taiwan have aimed at showing ethnic Chinese societies around the world that the imported concept of democracy can take root, germinate, and grow into a big tree on purely ethnic Chinese soil. This is a very important reason for our existence.
Before I took office six years ago, only about 800 mainland Chinese students were in Taiwan on exchange programs. But the number of exchange and degree students together now exceeds 25,000. This is a highly important part of cross-strait exchange. Why is that so? Because we want the young generation of mainland China to understand the reasoning I have just discussed as to why we, being ethnic Chinese as well, are able to practice democracy here. Each year, on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Incident on June 4, I deliver an address encouraging mainland China to treat dissidents well and give people greater freedom. I also point out that such actions are beneficial to cross-strait relations because, as mainland China gradually moves toward greater freedom and democracy, it narrows the psychological gap between people on the two sides. As mainland China becomes more affluent, people will develop greater concern for public affairs and seek to have a bigger say in policymaking. I think this is inevitable.
Q8: Are you in favor of eventual cross-strait reunification? (Benjamin Carlson)
A. With regard to this question, the Constitution stipulates that, under Dr. Sun Yat-sen's Three Principles of the People, the ROC is a country of the people, by the people, and for the people. This is a very important factor when we engage with mainland China. In the more than 20 years that we have conducted exchanges with mainland China, we have consistently upheld this principle. Naturally, there are many different views on the future of cross-strait relations, but this is our most fundamental principle.
As to what I just said about no unification, no independence, and no use of force, during my eight-year tenure as president, I will not discuss unification with mainland China. In addition, I will not promote independence, let alone the use of force. I believe this is essential to achieving a stable and lasting framework for peaceful development.
The ROC is a democratic, sovereign nation, and our major policies are determined through democratic processes. This also applies to the future of cross-strait relations. Our people will make related decisions in accordance with the Constitution. This principle will not change, and any major issues concerning cross-strait relations in the future will be handled according to this principle.
Therefore, it is not meaningful at this time to discuss the question you just raised, because nobody believes that there is any urgency to do so. At a time when we have not yet resolved major cross-strait challenges concerning trade, economic, and cultural aspects, it is not in the interests of our people to start discussing issues that are currently not urgent. Our approach is to deal with pressing matters before less pressing ones, easily resolved matters before difficult ones, and economic matters before political ones, so as to decide which issues we will discuss with mainland China first, and which issues later.
Q9: You just said that pressing matters should be dealt with before less pressing ones, but Xi Jinping has previously stated that problematic issues should not be left to future generations. What is your view on this? (Jes Randrup Nielsen)
A. In fact, cross-strait engagement started about 20 years ago, less than a generation. The two sides have been under separate governance for 65 years, and for numerous issues it is difficult to achieve consensus in a short period of time. In the current situation, I believe we can learn from ancient wisdom. For example, Confucius said that haste makes waste, while Mencius pointed out that one should not pull at plant shoots to stimulate their growth. These views provide meaningful insight regarding the current state of cross-strait relations.
In fact, for many people, cross-strait relations have undergone major changes in the past six years. Before I assumed office, there was not a single direct flight between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. Now, there are 118 such flights every day. This is an unprecedented development. Meanwhile, students from mainland China can now run for student council president at Taiwan universities. To foster mutual understanding is a key goal of ours. In this way, we will be able to garner the support of the majority of the people, regardless of what decisions need to be made.
Over the past six years, more than 12 million visits have been made to Taiwan by people from mainland China. Now, almost three million such visits are made every year, be it for tourism or other purposes. Meanwhile, each year about five million visits are made to mainland China by people from Taiwan. Mutual understanding and trust is thereby being developed. This process should be allowed to continue and mature for a period of time, as it will benefit both sides. Therefore, I believe there is no need to hastily start discussions on political matters that we are unable to deal with now.
I know all of you have done research on mainland China and Taiwan, and are very familiar with Chinese history. China's historical records span about 4,600 years. During approximately 70% of this time, or at least 65%, China was unified, while during 30% it was divided. The longest period of division lasted more than 200 years. People with an understanding of the past realize that these are historical trends. What is important is whether the people's welfare can be ensured.
Q10: People in Taiwan believe that they are ethnic Chinese people, but there are also an increasing number of people who believe they are Taiwanese. From Europe's experience, this could lead to divisions. What do you believe constitutes a pragmatic approach to cross-strait relations? Is the concept of "one China, two systems" acceptable to the people of Taiwan? (Jes Randrup Nielsen)
A. This is a very complex question. I believe that if there are going to be discussions about political issues, many differences will arise. The most important question concerns our core values. If all parties believe that freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law should be accepted as core values, other issues will be easy to solve. When I was studying in the US 30 years ago, the Taiwan independence movement was very popular in many places. The number of people calling for independence today is much smaller, and sometimes it becomes counterproductive to even raise the issue of independence. Why is this? As Taiwan has implemented democracy, there is no longer a need to advocate political ideals that are not in line with reality.
I often refer to an exchange I had with CNN anchorwoman Christiane Amanpour four years ago. She asked me why we did not declare independence, and I replied that there has never been a country declaring independence twice. We declared independence in 1912, more than 100 years ago. There is absolutely no need to declare independence again. We now select our own president and our own legislature, and we are in charge of our own affairs. The political party calling for independence was in power for eight years, showing that a wide variety of views can move to the political forefront, or at least gain some traction. Such a society is acceptable to many people.
In 1979, when the US recognized the Chinese communist government, I wrote a short article entitled "Welcoming Democracy, Opposing Independence." This article was based on the aforementioned concepts, and we are now doing exactly what the article said. Therefore, concerning your question on identity, I believe that this will disappear with time. With regard to your comment that young people tend to say they are Taiwanese, I said during the elections that I was running to become president of Taiwan. However, the official name of our country is the Republic of China, as stipulated by the Constitution at a time when China was still unified. This is a reality that cannot be changed. In fact, this is an enormously powerful force in implementing a system of democracy and freedom, gradually eliminating mentalities that can lead to conflict and tension.
Q11: The Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong has lasted for a month. You have previously expressed your support for democracy in Hong Kong. What is your view on Beijing's response to your remarks? (Johan Nylander)
A. They did not like my remarks, which, in fact, reflected the opinion of the majority of people in Taiwan. We all hope to see a more democratic Hong Kong, but as to what type of approach needs to be adopted to achieve universal suffrage, the people of Hong Kong and their government should come up with solutions acceptable to both sides. This has been our consistent position. As ROC president, I cannot ignore developments in Hong Kong. Otherwise, the people of Taiwan would think that the president is not fulfilling his responsibilities. Another thing that is very important in this regard is that I was born in Hong Kong. I feel a close affinity with Hong Kong.
【Source: Office of the President】