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Vincent C. Siew: Hopes for a Cross-Straits Common Market
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67-year-old Vincent C. Siew, or Xiao Wanchang, former head of Taiwan's Executive Council, addressed a Chinese mainland and Taiwan forum on June 27 in Nanning, southwest China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, and reiterated his concept of a cross-Straits common market, an idea he proposed in 2001.

In May 2005, President Hu Jintao, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Lien Chan, then chairman of the Kuomintang (KMT), Taiwan's largest opposition party, held a historic meeting in Beijing. The two sides agreed to give priority to cross-Straits common market discussions after official negotiations between the mainland and Taiwan are normalized.

Siew, board chairman of the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research and Cross-Straits Common Market Foundation, travels regularly between the mainland and Taiwan to advocate his proposal.

21st Century Business Herald (CBH), a Guangzhou-based publication, interviewed Siew who expounded on his concept. The following are key excerpts of that interview which was published on July 1.

CBH: What exactly is your proposed cross-Straits common market?

Siew: I was enlightened by the success of the European Common Market, which is why I put forward this concept. An ideal cross-Straits common market includes not only the mainland and Taiwan, but also Hong Kong and Macao.

CBH: In the early 1990s, Chinese-American professor Zheng Zuyuan proposed the concept of a "Greater China Economic Zone". What are the similarities and differences between this and your proposal?

Siew: Things are quite different now because of the changes that have developed in terms of time and place. In the early 1990s, China was in the initial stages of its market economy. It hadn't been fully integrated into the international arena. Now, if the mainland and Taiwan set up an economic common market, it will be good for the peaceful development of the two. The rest of the Asia-Pacific region and the international community will be delighted to see this happen. With over a decade's worth of development, the economies of both sides have moved in an integrated and cooperative direction. A common market could well serve their interests.

CBH: Where do you think this common market will make a breakthrough?

Siew: Both sides now take a more pragmatic view of it and are getting to know each other's concerns. Both should start from common interests and language, and lay emphasis on economic issues.

CBH: The Northeast and Southeast Asian regions have continued to deepen economic coordination and cooperation in recent years. Where does Taiwan fit in? There are concerns that Taiwan might be marginalized during regional economic integration.

Siew: Taiwan needs to solve the problem on its own, but East Asian countries, including the mainland, should give it a hand. Many Taiwan enterprises play a very important role in regional industrial chains. They are manufacturing and selling many products. The industrial chains will be broken if Taiwan is excluded.

CBH: Have you set a timetable for this common market?

Siew: I think that it would be established step by step, rather than in one leap. Only after over 50 years of development did the EU finally come into being. ASEAN has yet to form a common market despite its 40-year history. I hope that the cross-Straits common market will not take such a long time to establish. Although we have different economic systems, we are of the same origin and share the same language.

CBH: What is your proposed road map?

Siew: First, bilateral trade ties should be normalized. In view of the frequent exchanges across the Taiwan Straits, current indirect transport links are an obstacle and increase operation costs. It is not a normal thing. The mainland has put forward a law to protect the interests and rights of Taiwan businesspeople on the mainland, but it doesn't engage in direct contact with the Taiwan authorities. For example, both sides need to negotiate on tax exemption. For example, if Taiwan businesspeople pay taxes on the mainland, they should not have to do so again in Taiwan.

Normalizing bilateral trade relation would help to remove all these barriers.

Second, they need to negotiate how to achieve mutual benefits. Preferential treatment provided for by policies such as the CEPA (Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement), which is given by the mainland to Hong Kong and Macao, should also be given to Taiwan.

Third, they should sign agreements on customs and excise, and monetary union, and then form an integrated market that would be the common market.

CBH: What do both sides need to do after these three steps are completed?

Siew: Both sides would need coordinate their legal, trade and accounting systems. The implementation of the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-2010) indicates that bilateral cooperation has entered a new phase.

CBH: Compared with the highly integrated industrial sector, cooperation in the financial sector seems to be lagging behind. What are your views on this?

Siew: The financial sector is a very important part of investment, trade and economic cooperation. It is a pity that there are neither exchange channels nor good platforms. Moreover, supervision is very strict. I hope that financial watchdogs across the Taiwan Straits could join hands to establish a united platform and play a more active role in industrial cooperation and common market supervision.

( by Tang Fuchun, July 11, 2006)

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