'Freedom, not conflict' pledge

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 January, 2009, 12:00am

Taiwan should compete with the mainland over democratic advancement and freedoms and not military strength, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou says.

Mr Ma said a military race with the mainland was the last thing the island needed.

'Where we should really compete against each other is the race for freedom and democracy,' Taiwan's Central News Agency quoted him as saying.

Mr Ma was speaking at celebrations yesterday for World Freedom Day and the opening of the annual gathering of the Taiwan chapter of the World League for Freedom and Democracy (WFLD) in Taipei.

He hailed the island's democratic transition since the lifting of martial law in 1987, including four direct presidential elections since 1996.

'Freedom and democracy are the most important chips for Taiwan to survive in the world,' he said. 'Considering our strength [in those areas], I believe we will definitely win.'

He also defended his conciliatory stance towards Beijing, saying cross-strait confrontation should be replaced with negotiations and that only through talking could both sides avert conflict.

'If there is no war but peace and prosperity across the Taiwan Strait, I believe both governments will have greater courage to promote free and democratic societies,' he said.

Mr Ma said Taiwan should ratify the UN human rights covenants - the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Beijing signed both more than a decade ago but has yet to ratify the ICCPR.

The WFLD was founded as the World Anti-Communist League in 1966 at the initiative of late Taiwanese president Chiang Kai-shek.

Wu Poh-hsiung, chairman of the ruling Kuomintang, said Taiwan had played a leading role in promoting freedom and democracy.

'Taiwan might be small but our value should be appraised fairly,' he was quoted as saying.