Opinion

Op-Ed

Taiwan under President Ma

Taiwanese protesters rally in Taipei on May 1 against a planned trade pact with China (the ECFA) that they say will threaten the island's workforce. (Photo: Patrick Lin/ AFP-Getty Images)

This May 20 marks the two-year anniversary of the inauguration of President of the Republic of China (Taiwan) Ma Ying-jeou. In his inaugural address, President Ma called upon mainland China to "pursue win-win solutions" between the two sides, and elaborated on his practical plans to make strides forward.

Two years into his tenure, Taiwan has already begun to more fully develop its position on the international stage, and has taken many of these pragmatic steps to advance the well-being of both its citizens and the global community at large. Those who closely follow Taiwan know that these are no ordinary happenings, but a paradigm shift.

This new approach pushed by the Ma administration, often referred to as "flexible" or "truce" diplomacy, signals a major windfall for Taiwan's future prospects of international participation and contribution. Taiwan's critical relationships with the United States and mainland China have been strengthened, while the nation's influence as a key economic player in the region is unwavering. Tony Ong, Director, Taipei Economic & Cultural Office in New York

Taiwan plays a vital role in both the Asia-Pacific and global economies, having created a success story widely lauded as a model for development. In response to the challenges of globalization and regional integration, Taiwan endeavors to engage with the international community in a spirit of conciliation and cooperation, reciprocity and co-prosperity, eschewing confrontational Cold-War thinking. It aspires to bring lasting peace and well-being to the Asia-Pacific region and the world.

Since Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou came to office in May 2008, his administration has striven to catalyze conciliation between Taiwan and mainland China in conjunction with a policy of "flexible diplomacy." These efforts have already borne fruit. Warming sentiment between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait not only has improved their relations and greatly relaxed tensions, but has enabled them to join hands in developing their economies and improving the lives of their peoples.

Besides ending vicious competition in the international arena, Taiwan's flexible diplomacy has boosted its ability to pragmatically advance relations with all countries and take part in international organizations. Now, it is in a better position to share with the world its strengths and experience in economic development.

For instance, when a strong earthquake devastated Taiwan's diplomatic partner Haiti earlier this year, a rescue team from Taiwan was among the first to reach the disaster area. In addition to having donated $16 million in cash and materials, Taiwan is in the process of setting up medical and vocational training centers and providing 1,200 prefabricated homes to minister to the needs of disaster victims. These actions have won the international community's praise.

Further, besides having effectively controlled the spread of H1N1 novel influenza in Taiwan during the recent flu pandemic—posting a mortality rate only one-third that of OECD countries—Taiwan will donate Taiwan-made vaccines worth $5 million to countries in need. At the invitation of the World Health Organization (WHO), this May Taiwan will, for the second time, attend the annual meeting of the World Health Assembly. This will provide us opportunities to participate in global disease prevention efforts and jointly uplift international medical and public health standards.

In the same spirit of sharing, Taiwan seeks to participate in the activities of other agencies in the United Nations system, including those of the U.N. International Civil Aviation Organization and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. Taiwan looks forward to receiving the same international support as accorded it in its efforts to participate in WHO activities, so that it may more effectively share its considerable resources.

Despite setbacks caused by the past two years' global economic turmoil, Taiwan's economy is steadily recovering thanks to its people's efforts and its government's timely stimulus measures along with an improving global economy. Since the beginning of 2010, Taiwan's stock and real estate markets have flourished, consumer spending has been rising, and export orders have reached record highs. The International Monetary Fund, meanwhile, has forecast that Taiwan's GDP will grow by 6.5 percent this year. These and other indicators show that policies emplaced by the Ma administration have seen the country through the global financial tsunami and ensuing economic crisis in good shape.

Building on the nation's numerous strengths, by 2016, the government will invest around NT$4 trillion (more than US$125 billion) in a series of infrastructure programs known as the "i-Taiwan 12 Projects." Through that year, the projects are expected to boost Taiwan's real GDP by an average 2.79 percent per year and create an average 277,000 jobs annually.

Though Taiwan has emerged from economic recession, it faces challenges posed by the "new regionalism" stemming from globalization. Driven by pursuit of common values, norms and interests within their respective regions, more and more nations are entering into various kinds of free trade agreements (FTAs). In recent years, for example, FTAs between ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and China, South Korea and Japan, respectively, have been concluded and implemented, making Asia-Pacific integration an irreversible trend. If Taiwan remains isolated from this mainstream, it will pose severe challenges to its economic growth and sustained development.

Thus, as a key member of the Asia-Pacific region and one of its major economies, Taiwan has signed 12 agreements with mainland China concerning trade, tourism and other matters crucial to the interests of its people; and in recent months, the two have been negotiating an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA). In response to new regionalism, Taiwan also looks forward to signing FTAs with other countries.

The ECFA will cover three major areas of concern: tariff reductions and exemptions, investment safeguards, and protection of intellectual property rights. Studies conducted by research institutions in Taiwan indicate that, overall, the conclusion of an ECFA will be of clear benefit to Taiwan. It will boost exports, encourage overseas Taiwanese businesses to invest in Taiwan, stimulate foreign direct investment and create job opportunities.

In addition to promoting a cross-strait ECFA, Taiwan will work to sign FTAs or similar economic agreements with other major trading partners. Only by so doing can it join with other regions, and with the world as a whole, to create mutual benefits and prosperity.

President Ma's cross-strait policies have proved effective in bringing peace and stability to the Taiwan Strait. They conform to the common interests of Asia-Pacific nations and advance the economic development and well-being of peoples on both sides of the strait.

In the future, Taiwan will continue pursuing modes of global engagement designed to create benefits for all, ceaselessly striving to enhance its economic development while expanding its involvement in international affairs. Taiwan will maintain a responsible, pragmatic, positive attitude. In this way, Taiwan can be counted on to contribute solidly to the international community and cooperate with its members in creating peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific and the world.

Dr. Johnny Chiang is the minister of the Government Information Office of the Republic of China.

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