Taiwan's president rules out seeking independence

Taiwanese president makes his pledge on the 20th anniversary of a summit to mend fences

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 April, 2013, 5:34am

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou vowed yesterday that his government would not seek or promote independence from the mainland.

"We will not push for 'two Chinas, one China, one Taiwan', or Taiwan's independence, within or outside" Taiwan, he said at an event in Taipei marking the 20th anniversary of the "Wang-Koo summit".

The historic summit, held in Singapore in April 1993, was hailed as a landmark attempt by Beijing and Taipei to mend fences since a civil war ended in 1949.

The two sides were represented by Wang Daohan , chairman of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, and Koo Chen-fu, chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation.

Beijing has repeatedly warned Taiwan against declaring formal independence, as it could lead to military action being taken by the mainland.

Reiterating that his mainland policy falls within the "framework of the Republic of China [Taiwan's official title] constitution", Ma said his administration maintains that the interests of the Taiwanese people must always come first. When it comes to handling cross-strait issues, his government would continue to address issues based on how easily they may be handled. Therefore, tackling economic issues would take priority in his cross-strait policy before turning to political issues.

However, the president's comments were interpreted by some local pundits as a reluctance to begin political talks with the mainland. In recent interviews with Taiwanese media, Ma also said it was still premature to conduct political dialogue with Beijing, as there was not yet anything to talk about.

On the contrary, Beijing has repeatedly pushed for political dialogue with Taipei, especially since Xi Jinping became the mainland's new leader earlier last month, and since relations between the two sides have warmed considerably since Ma became the island's president and adopted a policy of engaging Beijing.

But Ma, amid mounting criticism from the pro-independence camp in Taiwan, has maintained that cross-strait talks should still fall within an economic framework, and he has given no timetable for political talks during the remainder of his term, which ends in 2016.

Ma took note yesterday of the Wang-Koo talks, saying that the pragmatism in those talks, which sought to establish common ground and temporarily put aside differences, laid the foundation for cross-strait dialogue in 2008.

The Wang-Koo talks led to a series of follow-up meetings between the two sides until 1998, when an infuriated Beijing suspended all talks with Taipei following pro-independence moves and rhetoric by then-president Lee Teng-hui and his successor, Chen Shui-bian.

It wasn't until after Ma became president in 2008 that Beijing resumed talks with Taipei, leading to cross-strait rapprochement and the signing of 18 non-political agreements.

"We hope both sides will continue to promote peace and prosperity based on the 1992 consensus," Ma said, referring to a tacit understanding used in the Wang-Koo summit as a basis for talks. Under that understanding, reached in 1992, the two sides agreed that there is only "one China", and that each side could have its own definition of what that China stands for - for Taipei, it means the Republic of China, and for Beijing, it's the People's Republic of China.