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Defending the Core Interests of Taiwan’s People while Advancing Cross-Strait Relations

Speech at the International Symposium on Cross-Strait Interactions
and Power Relations in East Asia

Lai Shin-Yuan

Minister of the Mainland Affairs Council, Executive Yuan

President Tien, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Good morning!

I would like to thank the Institute for National Policy Research
for arranging this international symposium on Cross-Strait Interactions and Power
Relations in East Asia. This is the first conference in a series of activities to
celebrate next month’s 20th anniversary of the formation of the Mainland Affairs
Council. On behalf of the Council, I warmly welcome the scholars and experts who
have gathered here today to share thoughts and join in discussion on the very interesting
subject of this symposium.

After the political division of Taiwan and mainland China in
1949, there was a period of 38 years in which each side’s social development and
economic activity were segregated from each other. During these 38 years, there
was military conflict and tense confrontation across the Taiwan Strait. The soldiers
and civilians who followed the relocation of the ROC government to Taiwan, grew
from infancy to middle age, and from young adulthood to old age.

Some 600 thousand people in Taiwan were separated from their
relatives on the mainland for those 38 years, unable to exchange any messages with
them or go back to their old homeplaces to visit them. But in 1987, the government
responded to the wishes of the people by allowing members of the public to visit
relatives in the mainland, opening cross-strait relations to a period of contact
and connection in the private sphere.

Thereafter, as private contacts across the Taiwan Strait continuously
intensified, and as the volume of cross-strait mail, telecom traffic, and intermediary
trade expanded year by year, this also generated problems of increasing complexity.
Therefore, in August 1988, the Executive Yuan set up the “Inter-agency Mainland
Affairs Committee,” as a task force to coordinate policy matters related to the
mainland, with our current president, Ma Ying-jeou, appointed as its executive secretary.

Subsequently, in view of the complexity of mainland affairs and
the committee’s rapidly escalating workload, the government decided to establish
a Cabinet ministry devoted to handling mainland affairs. The Organization Act for
the Mainland Affairs Council passed its third reading in the Legislative Yuan on
January 18, 1991, and with its proclamation into effect ten days later, the Mainland
Affairs Council was formally established as the statutory authority in charge of
mainland affairs.

One of the MAC’s most important achievements in its two decades
of existence is the opening of cross-strait talks. Unfortunately, due to the volatility
of cross-strait relations, the negotiating mechanism created for this purpose was
put into abeyance for a whole decade from 1998 to 2008. As we entered the 21st century,
the situation in the Taiwan Strait became very tense, and cross-strait relations

It was not until May 2008, two and a half years ago, that a breakthrough
was made to change this situation. The breakthrough came when President Ma took
up the leadership of the government of the Republic of China, and set about pursuing
the development of cross-strait relations under the framework of the ROC constitution,
holding to the principle of “no unification, no independence, and no use of force,”
and on the basis of the so-called “1992 Consensus.”

Institutionalized cross-strait negotiations were speedily reactivated,
and in five ensuing rounds of high-level talks, have yielded 14 cross-strait agreements
and one item of consensus. A 6th round of so-called “Chiang-Chen talks” is scheduled
to be held in the near future.

The orderly operation of institutionalized cross-strait negotiations
is gradually establishing mutual trust between the two sides, and not only laying
a firm foundation for peace in the Taiwan Strait, but also making a major contribution
to building a sturdy groundwork for regional security, stability and prosperity.

Here, I would like to give you an explanation of the goals and
visions of the ROC government’s mainland policy during the past two and a half years.

First of all, the highest guiding principle of President Ma’s
mainland policy is “putting Taiwan first for the benefit of the people.” Putting
Taiwan first means upholding Taiwan’s identity. For the benefit of the people means
that the fruits of cross-strait connections and negotiations must be shared by all
of our people.

The ROC government’s mainland policy is founded on the vision
and goals of establishing peaceful and stable cross-strait relations, and advancing
the defense and development of the core interests of the Taiwanese people, to more
concretely realize the highest guiding principle of mainland policy.

Breaking down the goals of our government’s mainland policy,
the Taiwanese people’s core interests should include at least the following seven

(1) Democracy.

After two decades of democratic reform, democracy has already
become a way of life and fundamental value of the Taiwanese people. As President
Ma stated unequivocally in his inauguration address on May 20, 2008: “The key to
finally resolving cross-strait issues lies not in dispute over sovereignty, but
in way of life and core values.”

Taiwan’s atmosphere of freedom and plurality exists in our people’s
habits of thinking and daily life. We are already used to using democracy to resolve
political disputes. Taiwan has all kinds of active social forces that also use the
political platforms of democracy to fight for economic democracy and social democracy
for the disadvantaged.

Democracy has already become the foremost of Taiwan’s core interests.
Democracy is our basic prerequisite in addressing cross-strait relations.

We are absolutely adamant that no development in cross-strait
relations and no connection between us will or can be allowed to harm the democratic
way of life of the Taiwanese people.

(2) Sovereignty.

Under our Constitution, the Republic of China is a sovereign
and independent country. This is the highest common denominator that is accepted
by Taiwan’s ruling and opposition camps. The Taiwanese people enjoy all the rights
and responsibilities that the people of a sovereign nation should enjoy. This is
an objective fact that is hard to deny.

Not a single word of the 14 cross-strait agreements signed in
the past two and a half years has in any way harmed that sovereignty. On the contrary,
the dignity and equality that we have maintained in cross-strait interaction have
consolidated our sovereignty.

(3) Security.

Taiwan has the right to defend its own security. We possess the
resolution to defend our own country, and must possess national defense capabilities
that are sufficient for carrying out that purpose.

Although cross-strait relations are now in a state of conciliation,
the mainland has not reduced its forces ranged against Taiwan. However, there have
recently been relevant remarks on the mainland side about withdrawing the missiles.
We hope they can put their words into action and carry this out as soon as possible,
to underpin cross-strait and regional peace.

True peace should not be subject to any precondition. The Taiwanese
people hold the view that mainland China should act on its own initiative to withdraw
the weapons aimed at Taiwan. This is the only true way to display good intention,
and is the solemn demand and just expectation of all of Taiwan’s people.

(4) The right of free choice on the future of cross-strait relations.

Taiwan is a democratic country. Any official position concerning
the future of cross-strait relations must have the support of public opinion and
be based on social consensus. Taiwan’s future should be decided by the democratically
and freely exercised choice of its 23 million citizens. Our ruling and opposition
parties fully agree on this.

Hence, the future development of cross-strait relations must
respect the autonomous volition of the Taiwanese people. The 23 million citizens
of Taiwan certainly have the wisdom to choose a course that is most beneficial to

(5) The right to meaningful participation in international space.

As members of the global village, Taiwan’s people have the right
to participate in international affairs. And the great majority of our people yearn
to be able to participate meaningfully in international activities. In fact, the
two sides of the Taiwan Strait can cooperate with each other in the international
community, working together to fulfill our responsibilities as members of the global

Currently, Taiwan is pushing for admission to the International
Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the United Nations Framework Convention on
Climate Change (UNFCCC). We hope we can gain greater approval and support for this
from the international community.

(6) The right not to be discriminated against.

International trade is the lifeblood of Taiwan’s existence. It
bears closely on the welfare and interests of all of Taiwan’s people. As a major
trading nation and a member of the WTO, we have the right to enjoy fair competitive
trade conditions. This includes the right to participate in regional economic integration,
and the right to negotiate and sign economic agreements with our main trade partners.

The ROC has already signed four free trade agreements with five
Central American allies. We are currently holding discussions with Singapore about
an economic cooperation agreement. We believe that, if Taiwan can play a more active
role in regional economic cooperation and integration, it will help raise the prosperity
of both sides of the Taiwan Strait and the whole of the Asia-Pacific region.

(7) The survival right of the disadvantaged

One of the primary goals of ROC government policy is to establish
a society in which wealth is distributed equitably. However, some weak industries
and disadvantaged groups are susceptible to adverse impact when we participate in
regional economic integration and expand trade liberalization. This is an issue
that countries all over the world must face.

Therefore, we have made a commitment to our traditional industries,
farmers and workers, that they have the right to be protected and not to be sacrificed.

In the next stage of economic and trade negotiations with the
mainland, the ROC government will maintain a gradual and carefully sequenced pace
of opening, and will institute accompanying support, assistance and relief measures,
to ensure that the rights of disadvantaged groups are protected.

We believe that, in the course of cross-strait interaction, as
long as we safeguard the rights and interests of disadvantaged groups, our society’s
development will be more balanced, and the development of cross-strait relations
will be able to win greater support from public opinion.

The subject of this symposium – “Cross-Strait Interactions and
Power Relations in East Asia” – carries great instructiveness for the general situation
in our region today. Recent years have brought significant changes in East Asia’s
situation. One of these changes is mainland China’s rise, and another is the Obama
administration’s strategy of renewed US engagement in Asia. The influence of these
two factors can be seen in the interactions among the countries of East Asia.

A conspicuous example of this is the new situation that has recently
emerged on the Korean Peninsula.

Compared to the exchanges of artillery fire between the two Koreas,
the peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait stands out as all the more precious
an achievement.

Looking back at the recent development of cross-strait relations,
we can see how far they have evolved from yesterday’s tense standoff and mutual
suspicion, even coming to the brink of eruption into armed conflict, to today’s
peaceful situation of benign interaction. Such an achievement has not come easily.

We salute the goodwill and efforts exerted by mainland China
in the past two and a half years, and appeal to everyone on both sides of the Taiwan
Strait to protect and treasure these hard-won gains.

We consider the people to be the main actors in cross-strait
relations. Only if we understand, respect and safeguard the core interests of the
Taiwanese people will cross-strait relations be able to develop in a more stable
forward direction. Only thus will we be able to cement the foundations of peace
and prosperity across the Taiwan Strait, and avert all risk of ever turning backward

I feel greatly honored to be invited to take part in today’s
academic symposium, which formally raises the curtain on activities to celebrate
the 20th anniversary of the MAC. I thank all of you for your enthusiastic participation
in this conference, and wish these proceedings the best of success.

Thank you!