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Taiwan's President Ma on boosting trade with EU and disarming regional disputes


interview

Taiwan's President Ma on boosting trade with EU and disarming regional disputes

This interview’s focus is Taiwan, an island long proud to call itself independent but over which China claims sovereignty. This conflict has been among the gravest security threats in south-east Asia since the Second World War. Relations between the capital, Taipei, and Beijing have improved, thanks to a new president. Taiwan is also keen to cement a trade agreement with the European Union, to avoid economic annexation by China. Concerning another territorial dispute, Taiwan has offered to mediate to allay tensions between China and Japan. We discussed these matters in an exclusive interview with Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou.

Margherita Sforza, euronews:
“Mr President, Taiwan is major trade partner for the EU, but negotiations on a free trade agreement have not yet started. How important is this agreement for Taiwan?”

President Ma:
“The objective of negotiating with the European Union to sign a free trade agreement or economic cooperation agreement is primarily for the benefit of both parties, because our two-way trade last year reached US$48 billion [equivalent to 35 billion euros]. The EU is the largest source of investment in Taiwan, having invested over US$32 billion [23 billion euros].”

euronews:
“The EU is making progress on free trade agreements with several of your competitors in Asia. Negotiations have been concluded with South Korea and Singapore, and are ongoing with Japan. How afraid are you that Taiwan will be left behind?”

President Ma:
“South Korea and the EU signed a free trade agreement two years ago. South Korea is our major trade competitor in global markets. Thus, this poses a considerable threat to our country. Similarly, the free trade agreement signed by South Korea and the US that took effect last year has already had a marked effect on exports of our products to the US. We have already fallen behind, so should catch up as soon as possible.”

euronews:
“What do you think will be the principal benefits to the EU of this free trade agreement?”

President Ma:
“According to research by a think tank in Denmark, after the Republic of China – if Taiwan [officially the Republic of China, ROC, while mainland China’s official name is the People’s Republic of China] and the EU sign an economic cooperation agreement (or free trade agreement), Taiwan could expect its exports to the EU to grow by €10 billion. For Europe, over the next two to five years, the increase could be €12 billion. As Taiwan is at the centre of East Asia, many countries could use such an agreement after it is signed to bolster their trade with mainland China and Europe.”

euronews:
“Under your leadership, the economic relationship between China and Taiwan has become stronger. China and Taiwan move much closer; but [would you say] too close?”

President Ma:
“I believe that our relationship with mainland China is developing normally, as it has already been Taiwan’s largest trade partner for 10 years. Over the past decade, we have wanted cross-straits trade to grow, but we have also hoped that its share in our total trade would not increase too quickly. Since I took office five years ago cross straits trade (with China) has expanded to 160 billion US dollars [117 billion euros] per year, which, however, has not accounted for a larger percentage of our total trade because our trade with other countries has increased.”

euronews:
“One of the fears in Europe is that some of your markets are still closed to European companies. How much are you ready to open your markets to European companies, especially, for instance, in the service sector?”

President Ma:
“As for the service sector: the economic cooperation agreements we have signed with New Zealand and are about to sign with Singapore [do] cover services. After these agreements are concluded, import tariffs for 85 percent of products will be reduced to zero. Therefore, if we sign an economic cooperation agreement with the European Union in the future, its content will probably be very similar.”

euronews:
“How much could the free trade agreement with Europe help Taiwan to improve its international space, its international position?”

President Ma:
“Over the past 60 years, due to international political pressure, we have been rather isolated. However, Taiwan is a very important trading nation. Taiwan’s imports and exports rank 17th or 18th, globally. This fact cannot be overlooked. So, when we sign economic cooperation agreements with other countries, our international room for manoeuvre naturally increases. Of course, we do not rely solely on trade and investment. On the international stage, we aim to play the role of peacemaker and provider of humanitarian aid, so as to demonstrate that the Republic of China (Taiwan) is an asset to the international community, not a liability.”

euronews:
“One of the main threats in this region at this moment is the territorial dispute over the Diaoyutai Islands. These are unpopulated islands rich in oil and gas that are claimed by Japan, by China, and by Taiwan. So you promoted the East China Sea Peace Initiative. But after the tension of this summer, do you still believe it is possible to share these resources?”

President Ma:
“The Diaoyutai Islands (Senkaku in Japanese) are an inherent part of the sovereign territory of the Republic of China, and appertain to Taiwan. This issue has caused friction with Japan for the past 40-some years. In April of this year, we (Taiwan) signed a fisheries agreement with Japan, reaching a temporary solution with regard to fishery issues. Even though the sovereignty dispute has not yet been resolved, our position is that while sovereignty cannot be divided, resources can be shared. By first resolving the resources issue, we disarm the overall dispute. When the time is right, we will deal with the sovereignty dispute.”

euronews:
“How much did you model this (peace) plan on another, European, example?”

President Ma:
“Concerning this issue, we have always referenced the way Europeans resolved contention over North Sea oil. I believe that this precedent has important implications for many areas where there are resource disputes. But whether we will reach a similar resolution depends on whether neighbouring countries have the determination and willingness.”

euronews:
“In your proposal, at the end, the question of sovereignty is still unsolved. What will the political solution be? Who should administrate these islands?”

President Ma:
“A final resolution of issues like this is necessarily a political one. But in the process of reaching a political solution it is sometimes possible to allow for joint development of resources as a means to smooth the way to a political settlement. The Diaoyutai Islands involve Japan, mainland China, and the Republic of China (Taiwan); we are looking for a comprehensive settlement for this issue. But in the short term, as we await such a settlement, we have resolved the issue of fishing rights with Japan, which increases the chance of settling the regional dispute. I believe that it is also beneficial to peace in the region as a whole.”

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