Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou, in an interview with The New York Times on Wednesday, said Taiwan desires a rapid expansion of economic relations with the mainland, that go far beyond the weekend charter flights and increased tourism just announced last week.
Ma said that he wanted broad access for Taiwan financial service businesses to the mainland market, an end to double taxation by both Beijing and Taipei, and the removal of some investment restrictions.
In the interview, the first with an American news organization since Ma came to office on May 20, he called for direct sea and air cargo links across the Taiwan Straits, regularly timed passenger flights, the carving-out of common technical standards for the high-tech industry, and the creation of a system to resolve commercial disagreements.
"I think if we could continue the current talks with them to achieve economic normalization, I'm sure the feeling of a peaceful environment will continue to grow, and this is exactly what we have in mind," Ma said.
As for relations with mainland, Ma said he believed that efforts by the Taiwan government and residents to help Sichuan Province in the aftermath of the devastating May 12 earthquake had helped improve relations.
Institutions and individuals in Taiwan have donated more than the equivalent of $27 million in aid. Three private Taiwan organizations also sent rescue and relief teams to Sichuan within a week after the quake.
Ma said that he had donated the equivalent of $6,000 himself and that he and his wife had worked phone banks to raise money for quake victims.
Because Taiwan residents have suffered identical deadly earthquakes, Ma said of the mainlanders, "We consider them as our compatriots, our fellow citizens in a way."
Negotiators from Taiwan met with their mainland counterparts in Beijing last week and announced a historical deal to start weekend charter flights and allow greater numbers of mainland tourists into the island.
Ma was more cautious than he had been during his campaign about how well the Taiwanese economy would perform this year even with access to the fast-growing mainland market. He promised 6 percent annual economic growth during the campaign. But he said on Wednesday that this probably would not be possible in 2008 because he had taken office nearly five months into the year.
High world oil prices and global inflation are a particular concern, Ma said, while insisting that his policies of economic engagement with the mainland remained the best response and would not be discredited if they happened to coincide with a period of difficult international economic conditions.
"Obviously the global inflation will hurt Taiwan, but without our opening to the mainland, we will be even more badly hurt," he said.
(Chinadaily.com.cn June 20, 2008)