Nov 18, 2011

Taiwan: Mainland Ties Grow But Public Still Wary of Military Threat

Progress is being made on less sensitive economic issues but the Taiwanese public remain distrustful of Beijing and the missile threat to the island which has not reduced since talks began

Below is an article published by Voice of America:

The Taiwanese official in charge of the ministry overseeing policy with Beijing says her government lacks the trust in China to pursue a peace accord with its rival of more than 60 years. The island’s president, Ma Ying-jeou, hinted last month [October 2011] that a deal might be possible in the next decade.

Last month, Taiwan’s president said publicly that he envisioned pursuing talks with China on a peace accord over the next 10 years, if the island’s people are willing. That statement rekindled debate in Taiwan about whether it is time to discuss political issues with Beijing.

Lai Shin-yuan, minister of the Taiwan government’s Mainland Affairs Council, says she cannot see raising the peace accord or any other political topic with China.

She says that, despite three-and-a-half years of landmark negotiations that have produced 16 accords on trade and economic issues, the two sides still lack trust.

She says that lack of trust and the fact that the Taiwanese public is still cool to the idea of a peace deal are two conditions that make substantive peace talks unlikely.

She says that President Ma wants those conditions fully met before talking politics with China. But she says it is very difficult to meet them, she says, so the president wants Taiwan’s public to stay calm and relaxed.

Taiwan’s relations with China, just 160 kilometers away, have improved with trade talks since 2008 after President Ma took office and sought to end an icy impasse. Both sides had braced for a conflict since the 1940s, when Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists lost the Chinese civil war and fled to Taiwan.

China’s Communists still claim sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan and have not renounced the threat of force. Taiwanese officials believe China is aiming as many as 1,900 missiles at the island. Lai says the military threat needs to end before Taiwanese feel right about starting political talks.

She says Taiwanese should feel that China is not a danger for them and that Beijing must give up its broader military policies toward the island. She says that means more than missiles, because those can be moved around. She says the island’s public would welcome a scrapping of all military policies toward Taiwan.

Lai Shin-yuan was once a legislator critical of China, before taking the government job in 2008. She says Taiwan will stay its course of negotiating first on less sensitive, economic issues with China. She says an investor protection deal will be signed next year.

She says the conditions for political talks are not mature and that too many trade and economic issues remain for future negotiations. She says, without mutual trust, political talks would not be possible.

Lai says, for now, tariff cuts are a Taiwanese policy priority - especially in the country’s service sector. Taiwanese investors already have invested more than $150 billion in China and are keen to see more markets opening.

The policymaker says there is no timetable for political talks and China is not pressuring Taiwan to talk politics any time soon, contrary to the widespread view of analysts in Taipei.

She says that kind of thing takes two to tango (two sides to make a deal) and, if one side does not have the conditions that it needs for talks, then it is understandable.

Speculation about a peace accord is already a hot topic in Taiwan’s presidential election campaign. The incumbent is running against an opponent whose party advocates tougher, more-distant relations with China. Lai says the opposition has exaggerated the peace accord, ahead of the January 14 polls, to cast Ma as a sell-out to Beijing.