- The Washington Times - Monday, April 14, 2008

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan’s president-elect said today that a historic weekend meeting between his No. 2 and China’s paramount leader was a step forward in their troubled relations, but insisted that he would not use “haste” in dealing with Beijing.

Ma Ying-jeou’s comments were his first on the Saturday meeting between China’s President Hu Jintao and Taiwanese vice-president-elect Vincent Siew during an economic conference in the southern Chinese city of Boao.

They came amid optimism that the meeting would lead to an early dividend for Ma, who scored a landslide victory March 22 on the strength of promises to jump-start Taiwan’s sputtering economy by hitching it to China’s white-hot economic boom.

Still, Ma’s comments appeared to dampen expectations of an early breakthrough in relations with China, which have been in a deep freeze since pro-independence President Chen Shui-bian assumed office in Taipei in 2000.

The vast majority of Taiwanese oppose unification with the mainland — the ultimate goal of China’s Taiwan policy — and Ma has repeatedly assured the island’s 23 million people he will not discuss the issue during his presidency.

Speaking to reporters in Taipei, the incoming president said that the weekend meeting was a “step forward” in relations with Beijing, and promised that after his inauguration on May 20 he would push for the reopening of formal communications channels with the mainland.

Those channels have been closed since the late 1990s.

Still, the Nationalist Party standard bearer took pains to acknowledge that progress between the sides would likely be slow.

“There’s still a long way to go, and we will move forward at a stable pace, never in haste,” Ma said, adding that he had no plans to visit either China or the Chinese territory of Hong Kong.

The comments follow Hu’s endorsement of two of Ma’s key proposals from the recently concluded electoral campaign: opening up Taiwan to more Chinese tourists and allowing weekend charter flights.

Direct air travel across the Taiwan Strait has been banned since the two sides split amid civil war in 1949.

According to Ma’s plan, 1 million Chinese would visit Taiwan each year, generating $1 billion in revenues.

Ma also has promised to push for the launching of regular commercial flights, though he does not believe they can start before the second half of next year.

The incoming Ma administration now hopes for further progress on the China economic front, including a deal to allow Chinese and Taiwanese financial institutions to set up branches in the other’s jurisdictions.

That would be a big boost for the island’s financial sector, which faces a significant contraction of business if banks continue to be barred from extending loans to the large number of Taiwanese enterprises that have relocated to the mainland.

Underscoring the importance of trade in Taiwan’s connection to China, Ma also said Monday he was naming a veteran economic planner as the top envoy for negotiations with Beijing.

Chosen to head the Straits Exchange Foundation was 75-year-old Chiang Pin-kung, a top economic official under President Lee Teng-hui, formerly of Ma’s Nationalist Party. Lee left office in 2000.

Despite the political tensions of Chen’s pro-independence presidency, economic ties between China and Taiwan are flourishing — at least statistically. Taiwanese companies have now invested more than $100 billion on the mainland and bilateral trade exceeds $80 billion annually — mostly Taiwanese exports.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide