Taiwan President: We Want to be 'Peacemaker' in Region

Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou
President Ma exchanges gifts with East-West Center President Charles E. Morrison
President Ma and EWC officials with a stone lion donated to the Center by the Republic of China in 1971.

HONOLULU (July 6) -- Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou said on Sunday that his administration wants to be a "peacemaker" in Northeast Asia and has proposed a "diplomatic truce" with mainland China when it comes to seeking formal relations with other nations

Speaking at a private luncheon at the East-West Center in Honolulu during a one-day stopover while in transit back to Taiwan after a visit to Central America, President Ma said his policies of pursuing better ties with mainland China are in the best interest of everyone, including the United States.

(Click here to view a photo gallery of President Ma's visit.)

Dressed Hawai'i-style in a black aloha shirt with a blue and green floral pattern, Ma said he has made it clear since the day of his inauguration  "that I will maintain status quo in Taiwan Strait and adopt a policy of 'no unification, no independence and no use of force.'"

"Taiwan wants to be a peacemaker in this part of the world, and to shed the once troublemaker image in the international community," Ma said. "The United States can rest assured that our efforts to improve relations with the mainland will make security relations much easier than they were before … and so far I think we have proof that the new-found rapprochement with the mainland actually benefits our relations with United States, and this is a 'win-win,' or even a 'win-win-win,' situation for us."

Ma pointed out that there used to be two main "flashpoints" in Northeast Asia: the Taiwan Strait and the Korean Peninsula. "Now if you compare the two places these days, you'll see a big difference," he said. "And this is exactly why countries like Japan and the U.S. are generally very supportive of our change."

In March 2008, Ma was elected president with a solid majority after running on a platform of warmer relations with China, a stark contrast to the pro-independence policies of his predecessor, Chen Shui-bian. The mainland People's Republic of China considers Taiwan, which split politically from the PRC at the end of Chinese Civil War in 1949, to be a breakaway province that must be eventually be reunited with the mainland.

Ma, who holds a doctorate in law from Harvard and speaks fluent English, said that his first step was to seek a return to a 1992 consensus under which "both sides agreed that there is one China, but each is side is entitled have different interpretations. It's a very important agreement to make improvement of relations possible."

Ma said the return to this consensus has already paid off with the signing of nine separate agreements with the mainland, covering such issues as direct flights between Shanghai and Taipei, food safety, financial regulations and judicial issues. "This is something that many people could never have dreamed of a year ago," he said. "And the reason is that we understand very well that only by easing the tension across the Taiwan Strait could Taiwan be developed further into a land of peace and prosperity."

Ma said that warmer ties with mainland China have also helped Taiwan's international relations. He cited such examples as Taiwan being allowed to send its highest-ranking official ever, former Vice President Lien Chan, to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders' summit in Peru last fall, where he was able to meet with mainland China President Hu Jintao; Taiwan's recent inclusion in a World Trade Organization government procurement agreement; and its invitation to attend the World Health Organization's assembly in May with observer status, which Ma called 'unprecedented … ever since we lost our representation in the United Nations in 1971."

Addressing opposition criticism that his policies threaten Taiwan's autonomy, Ma said that none of the agreements with China contains "a single provision which derogates our (autonomy) … or the dignity of Taiwan's people."

Ma said his administration is seeking to improve Taiwan's relations with other countries with which it does not have formal diplomatic ties, such as Japan, the United States and the European Union.

"Interestingly enough," Ma said, "when we improve relations with the mainland, these countries also find it much easier to improve relations with us without antagonizing Beijing, because they say, "if Beijing is ready to improve relations with Taiwan, why couldn't we?"

Taiwan and mainland China have long competed for the formal recognition of other nations, but Ma said that he called for a "diplomatic truce" in this area. "We have unilaterally announced that we will not engage in efforts to win over the diplomatic allies of mainland China, and we also hope that they won't do things like that to us," he said. "We do that because we believe that (competing for) diplomatic contacts has wasted a lot of resources, and we should stop this vicious circle and normalize our international relations.

Asked if he would ever consider meeting directly with mainland Chinese President Hu Jintao, Ma said he would not exclude that possibility, but that it is not his main priority at this time.

"Meeting with Chinese leaders may very desirable, and in some cases very important," he said, "but I would rather respond at later stage, after we establish more of the infrastructure of relations. The goal is to build normal relations without hostility which are long-lasting, and I feel that leaders on the other side are interested in that as well."

During his stopover in Honolulu, Ma also met informally with Hawai'i Governor Linda Lingle and members of the local Chinese community, and he paid a visit to a statue of Republic of China founder Sun Yat-sen, who attended school in Hawai'i as a youth.

"We in Taiwan feel especially close to Hawai'i," Ma said at the luncheon with East-West Center scholars and officials, "since it was the childhood home of both your President Obama and the founder of our Republic of China."


The EAST-WEST CENTER is an education and research organization established by the U.S. Congress in 1960 to strengthen relations and understanding among the peoples and nations of Asia, the Pacific, and the United States. The Center contributes to a peaceful, prosperous and just Asia Pacific community by serving as a vigorous hub for cooperative research, education and dialogue on critical issues of common concern to the Asia Pacific region and the United States. Funding for the Center comes from the U.S. government, with additional support provided by private agencies, individuals, foundations, corporations and the governments of the region.

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