Ma agrees to debate stalled cross-strait pact with DPP chief

President hopes face-off with opposition chief will help boost stalled trade deal with Beijing

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 August, 2013, 4:59am

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has agreed to a debate with opposition leader Su Tseng-chang, hoping the move can end the controversy over whether the island should ratify a cross-strait trade pact signed more than two months ago .

The development comes as mainland authorities are becoming increasingly impatient over the island's stalling over legislation for the pact, which was signed on June 21.

Zhang Zhijun, director of the Taiwan Affairs Office under the mainland's State Council, recently said he was fully aware of certain concerns within the island over the accord, but warned that should the pact legislation be blocked, cross-strait relations "would more or less be affected".

"Negotiations over the follow-up goods and trade dispute settlement mechanism are bound to be delayed," he was quoted as saying by Taipei-based Want Daily at a cross-strait economic and cultural exchanges meeting in Jiangxi on August 13 .

The service trade pact - one of the follow-up agreements of the cross-strait Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement signed by Taipei and Beijing in 2010 - has faced strong opposition in Taiwan.

The pro-independence camp, led by the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), has refused to vote for the pact, which needs approval by the island's legislature before becoming legally binding.

Calling it an agreement that would endanger the survival of many service industries, including hairdressing, laundry, health care and printing, DPP members have stormed the legislature, staging protests and scuffles on the legislature floor and blocking the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) from passing the pact.

Ma's government later held a series of seminars and hearings across the island to stress the importance of the pact and its benefits to Taiwan, only to have his assertions persistently disputed by the opposition camp.

In an opinion poll released by the China Times in Taipei last Friday, 63 per cent of respondents supported a debate between KMT and DPP leaders to explain the advantages and disadvantages of the pact for Taiwan .

"The truth becomes clearer through debate," Ma told reporters, responding to a question whether he opted for a debate with DPP chairman Su.

He said the debate would allow the public to have a better understanding of the pact by increasing its transparency.

Meanwhile, Su said he would not shun a debate with Ma as he believed "the public should have the right to understand how exactly an important policy like this would impact Taiwan".

The island's Public Television Service said yesterday that it would conduct the debate and provide details of where and when it would be held shortly .

Under the pact, the mainland has agreed to open 80 service categories to Taiwan investments, while Taiwan will open 64 to mainland investors. Taiwan and the mainland were political rivals for decades after their civil war, but relations have improved sharply after Ma became president in 2008 and adopted a policy to engage Beijing.