February 13, 2009
Taiwan’s Low Profile May Aid Its Goals
By KEITH BRADSHER
TAIPEI, Taiwan — America’s new secretary of state is preparing to visit Beijing with an agenda that barely mentions Taiwan — and that is fine with the president of Taiwan.
President Ma Ying-jeou said here on Thursday that he was glad to have reduced tensions with mainland China and that he was not concerned that Taiwan was low on Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s list of priorities.
The lessening of tensions with the mainland “is good news for everyone, we are not dissatisfied with the fact they did not mention Taiwan,” President Ma said in an hourlong interview at the presidential palace.
Asked what Mrs. Clinton could do on relations between mainland China and Taiwan, long a top priority for Beijing, Mr. Ma asked for little help. “America can play a constructive role in encouraging the status quo,” he said.
But having largely removed relations between Taiwan and the mainland as a potential flash point since he took office last May, Mr. Ma mapped out changes that he wanted from Washington. A free-trade agreement between Taiwan and the United States topped the list, followed by visa-free access for Taiwanese travelers to the United States and a bilateral extradition treaty.
Beijing officials have viewed Taiwan as a renegade province ever since the Nationalists retreated to the island upon losing China’s civil war to the Communists in 1949. The reunification of mainland China and Taiwan has long been the mainland’s top goal in relations with the United States, Taiwan’s closest ally.
But senior administration officials have signaled that Mrs. Clinton’s priorities for the Beijing leg of her Asia trip next week involve climate change, energy, North Korea, Tibet, Iran and economic issues.
Mr. Ma also said he planned to push further this year for close economic relations with mainland China, even while acknowledging disappointment with the number of mainland tourists who have been allowed by Beijing to visit Taiwan. The Taiwanese government has set a limit of 3,000 a day, but actual arrivals have been closer to 500 or 600 a day.
Recent moves to let mainland tourists stay up to 15 days instead of 10, and come in groups of as few as 5 people instead of 10, could help increase their numbers, Mr. Ma said. His administration has also opened up charter flights, shipping and investment, and he said Thursday that he wanted regularly scheduled flights to the mainland by the middle of this year as well.
He won elections last March by promising that closer relations with the mainland would secure Taiwan’s economic future. But the global economic downturn has led to a plunge in the island’s exports; many investment bank economists now predict that Taiwan’s economy will shrink this year, although the Taiwanese government still forecasts very slow growth.
Mr. Ma said the economy would grow if Taiwan’s main export markets recovered. In the meantime, the government has already distributed shopping vouchers worth $110 to each citizen and is rapidly stepping up spending on roads, bridges and schools and other infrastructure projects that Mr. Ma promised to build during his election campaign a year ago.
“This is high time to go fiscal — let’s get fiscal,” he said.
All three of Mr. Ma’s goals in relations with the United States face uncertain futures.
American and Taiwanese officials held detailed discussions last year on a possible trade and investment framework agreement, which would be considerably narrower than a free trade agreement.
Stephen M. Young, the director of the American Institute in Taiwan, which unofficially represents the United States government here in the absence of full diplomatic relations between the governments in Taipei and Washington, said in public remarks in November and December that policy makers were focusing on a trade and investment framework agreement, and there has been no sign of any change by the Obama administration.
Mr. Ma’s top aide for relations with mainland China, Lai Shin-yuan, who played a central role in talks in 2000 and 2001 that brought Taiwan and the mainland into the World Trade Organization, said there had been little detailed discussion on the Taiwanese side of a free trade agreement.
Ms. Lai added that in her opinion, there was little enthusiasm in Taiwan for the broad dismantling of Taiwanese restrictions on imports of American food that the United States would be likely to demand as part of any free trade agreement.
Mr. Ma also asked that the United States allow Taiwanese citizens to visit without obtaining visas first. Britain agreed this week to allow Taiwanese citizens to visit and stay for up to six months without a visa.
Mr. Young has said publicly that the United States has concerns about this because Taiwan has too few controls in place to prevent the issuance of genuine passports to people who are not citizens of the island.
Mr. Ma and Ms. Lai also said that they wanted an extradition treaty with the United States that would allow Taiwan’s authorities to pursue fugitives accused of financial crimes who have fled across the Pacific. The Bush administration did not take a position on this question, and neither has the Obama administration.
Friday, February 13, 2009
Taiwan's Low Profile May Aid Its Goals
Let's hope the low profile is not too low so such that it may jeopardize Taiwan's voice in the international area.