- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 23, 2006

The chairman of Taiwan’s Nationalist Party, a strong favorite to win presidential elections in 2008, said yesterday that if victorious he would seek to negotiate a peace accord with Beijing providing for 30 to 50 years free of military tension.

Speaking in Washington at the Brookings Institution, Ma Ying-jeou said such a period of stability should be used to boost economic and cultural exchanges with the Chinese mainland and to extend Taiwan’s participation in international groups such as the World Trade Organization.

“We’d like to negotiate a peace accord with the mainland [covering] 30 years, 40 years, 50 years, depending on the negotiation,” he said. “In the peace accord, military confidence-building measures should be included.

“We want peace and prosperity,” added Mr. Ma, the popular mayor of Taipei since 1998 and the Nationalist Party chairman since last fall. “Taiwan shouldn’t be the troublemaker, but a responsible stakeholder in the region.”

Chen Shui-bian, the president of Republic of China (Taiwan), exacerbated tensions with the mainland and set off alarm bells in Washington last month when he scrapped the National Unification Council, a mainly symbolic body dedicated to the eventual reunification of Taiwan and China.

Beijing considers Taiwan a breakaway province and has threatened to attack if it declares independence. The Bush administration has pledged to defend Taiwan but fears being drawn into a war between the two.

Mr. Ma, in Washington for the first time since taking over his party chairmanship, led the Nationalists to strong gains in local elections in December and enjoys a formidable lead in national polls. He favors maintaining the status quo with China — which leaves Taiwan’s status ambiguous — while calling for a dialogue with the mainland’s ruling Communist Party.

In his remarks yesterday, Mr. Ma said his proposal did not mean the Nationalists will approach China at the expense of the U.S.-Taiwan relationship.

The United States “always encourages us to open dialogue with the mainland,” said Mr. Ma. “We don’t want to be the flash point in East Asia anymore.”

Mr. Ma offered no new hope for progress on a proposed $18 billion arms sale to Taiwan, which the Nationalists have been holding up in the island’s legislature since it was approved by President Bush in 2001.

The delay is partly because of the failure of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party to provide adequate information, he said yesterday.

The Nationalist Party “is not blocking the deal” and will support reasonable arms purchases from the United States, he said.

He said the determination of what is reasonable should be based on a comprehensive evaluation of Taiwan’s defense needs, its relationship with China, public opinion and Taiwan’s financial capabilities.

Mr. Ma placed enhanced economic ties with China at the center of his policy proposals. “Seven hundred [Chinese] missiles are targeted on Taiwan, but trade is booming as usual,” he said.

Trade with China has become hugely important for Taiwan, which holds a $41.7 billion surplus in cross-strait commerce while suffering a $34.1 trade deficit with the rest of the world.

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