In a video-conference at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on April 22nd, Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou urged the US to maintain the sale of defensive arms to the island in accordance to the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). He spoke during the center’s program “The Taiwan Relations Act: Turning a New Chapter” celebrating the TRA’s 30th anniversary. American scholars and political observers, including Richard Armitage, former US Deputy Secretary of the State, attended the event.
The TRA was passed by the US congress in 1979 to protect American interests in Taiwan after Washington established full diplomatic ties with Beijing. According to the Act, the sale of defensive weapons to Taiwan has been a stabilizing force in the Taiwan Strait. It has provided Taiwan with the security to build a stable democracy and a prosperous economy.
For the first time Ma proposed “a new geographic thinking” for Taiwan. He said, “Since the outset of my administration, my focus has been more on Taiwan’s geography rather than on its history.” He noted, Taiwan is located at the center of a “dense and rich network of economic powerhouses,” with the US, the world’s largest economy and sole superpower to the east, and the second, third and fifth largest economies, Japan, mainland China, and the ASEAN nations to the north, west and south respectively. Ma stressed the need for Taiwan to take full advantage of its geographic good fortune to link up with all the members of this “super economic network” for a “multifaceted win-win situation.”
To make the most of Taiwan’s geographical advantage, Ma has improved relations with China, inaugurating cross-strait direct flights, welcoming mainland Chinese tourists, and resuming high-level talks between Taipei’s Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and its mainland counterpart, the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS).
At the heart of his idea is the prospective creation of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) between Taipei and Beijing. With the ECFA, Ma believes Taiwan can bolster and safeguard its competitive edge in the mainland market, and in turn, in the greater global market.
He rebutted the accusation that the proposed signing of the ECFA with Beijing would be equivalent to unification with China. “Taiwan is a democratic country. No one can betray Taiwan. In the six agreements signed between SEF and ARATS (since Ma took office), none hurts the sovereignty of Taiwan,” he said.
Since Ma’s inauguration in May 2008, Ma has taken steps to reconcile with Beijing by declaring a “diplomatic truce” and focusing on issues that have yielded real and substantial rewards. In particular, his push for Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Assembly (WHA) has met with success, with China now willing to allow Taiwan observer status.
With this understanding approach to China, Ma expects to restore mutual trust and cooperation with other countries, especially the US. The future prospects of Taiwan-US relations will focus on issues of low politics with an emphasis on pragmatism.
- The Press Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in San Francisco represents the Government Information Office (GIO), Executive Yuan, Republic of China (Taiwan). GIO maintains nine Press Divisions in the United States, including the San Francisco office. The Press Divisions are in charge of promoting Taiwan's public relations and cultural exchanges. This blog is updated by the Press Division, TECO in San Francisco.
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