Taiwan President Pledges Close Ties with China

After Ma Ying-jeou’s successful reelection and hopes for improved cross-strait relations, President Ma has pledged to build stronger relations with China in his inauguration address. The Voice of America reports:

The Taiwanese president, who was first elected in 2008 on pledges to ease tension with rising military power China, said he would stick to that course. President Ma Ying-jeou said he expected more deals like the 16 trade, transit and economic agreements that were signed between the two sides over the past four years.

But President Ma told a news conference he was in no hurry to sign a formal peace accord with Beijing without popular support. He was criticized after making the suggestion last year.

He says Taiwan will handle easy but pressing issues with China before tackling harder ones and consider economic issues ahead of political ones. In that spirit, he says, there is no urgency to discuss a peace accord now with China, and Taiwan’s people must first express a high level of support, including a voter referendum.

President Ma said on Sunday he had heard the public’s voice. But his government has said it expects to sign an investment protection guarantee with China this year, helping about a million of the island’s business people. Officials on the island also expect to cut thousands of import tariffs and lower barriers for Chinese investors interested in Taiwanese companies, all before Ma leaves office in 2016.

While Ma addressed Taiwan’s relationship with China, critics claim that his pledge lacks a clear blueprint. There have also been criticism that Ma’s lack of improvement on domestic issues overshadows the improved relationship with China. The Wall Street Journal adds:

Starting Saturday, tens of thousands of protesters gathered outside the presidential office, with grievances including Mr. Ma’s failure to deliver on two major campaign pledges in his first four-year term: to lower the jobless rate to 3% (the latest data, for March, show a rate of 4.17%) and to accelerate real wage growth (it’s rising at a snail’s pace). The wealth gap remains wide, with the annual disposable income of the top 20% earners now 6.19 times that of the bottom 20%.

Adding to those complaints are the government’s withdrawal of its longtime subsidies on fuel and electricity last month and its plan to reimpose capital-gains tax on stock transactions, which spurred discontent from the middle class and business community.

In June 2010, Taipei and Beijing signed a landmark trade pact to gradually lift tariffs on goods and investment barriers between the two sides. During Mr. Ma’s first time, 16 cross-straits agreements were reached, including one allowing visits from individual Chinese rather than just tour groups—a much-needed boost for Taiwan’s tourism industry. Despite the lingering mistrust between the two sides—Beijing continues to to assert its right to annex Taiwan by force, according to the latest Pentagon assessment—military tension has relaxed substantially, a much welcomed change to the U.S.

Cross-strait détente and increased bilateral trade helped Mr. Ma to secure a second term, but analysts said the president should not count on help from China, implicit or explicit, in reversing the plummet in his popularity.

Prior to Ma’s inauguration speech, thousands of protesters had gathered due to the Taiwan president’s stance on cross-strait relations.

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