Xi Jinping

Ma Ying-jeou appeals to Xi Jinping to strengthen cross-strait ties

Taiwanese leader refers to Beijing's new leader by name and reaffirms his commitment to improving relations across the strait

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 January, 2013, 10:38am

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou made a rare direct appeal to Xi Jinping yesterday, calling on the recently anointed Communist Party leader to work with him to further expand cross-strait ties in the year ahead.

In his New Year's address yesterday, Ma called on Xi by name as he reaffirmed his commitment to strengthen all aspects of the relationship between Beijing and Taipei and bolster their landmark 2010 Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement (ECFA).

"I also hope to co-operate with the new leader of mainland China, Mr Xi Jinping, in continuing to promote peaceful development across the Taiwan Strait on the basis of the '1992 Consensus'," Ma said, referring to the agreement by which each side acknowledged the existence of "one China" while maintaining their own interpretation of what that means.

Ma told the holiday gathering at the presidential office that he would focus on loosening restrictions on mainland investors, students and travellers, as well as establishing administrative offices to serve citizens in each others' territories. He would also seek to review the Taiwanese law governing the rights of people on both sides of the strait.

Lin Baohua, the Taipei-based political commentator also known as Ling Feng, said it was interesting that Ma chose to directly address Xi, who ascended to the top party post in November and will become president in March.

"It's rare for a Taiwanese president to address a mainland leader as 'mister' with his full name in a public occasion," Lin said. "Ma's predecessors were accustomed to using the term 'Beijing authorities' or 'Beijing leadership.'

"I think Ma expects that Xi will not give him a hard time in the coming three years in his presidency as Xi, who spent 17 years in Fujian just across the strait from Taiwan, would understand Ma's difficulties more than other Beijing leaders," he said.

Ma is struggling to lift his sagging popularity amid rising public dissatisfaction with his job performance and handling of the island's economic problems. His approval rating has tumbled from a high of 70 per cent when he first became president in 2008 to 15 per cent in July last year.

Lin said the Taiwanese leader was under great pressure from Beijing to begin cross-strait political negotiations after both sides wrapped up the eight rounds of talks following the ECFA, which reduces tariffs and improves access to markets across the strait.

Professor Xu Bodong , the director of Beijing Union University's Taiwan Institute, said Ma's speech left room for people to draw their own conclusions.

"He is going to expand and deepen all aspects of cross-strait ties as well as lay a stronger foundation for the institutionalisation of cross-strait relations," the professor said.