Washington Post: Earlier this month, the leader of mainland China, Xi Jinping, stated that the political divide must step-by-step reach a final resolution and cannot be passed from generation to generation. What do you believe this means?
President Ma: At an APEC meeting, mainland Chinese leader Mr. Xi Jinping did say that the cross-strait division cannot be handed off to subsequent generations to handle. Perhaps he meant that he hopes that political issues can be discussed at an early date. Actually, since I took office and began to improve cross-strait relations, among the political, economic, and other matters the two sides have dealt with, the political ones can be divided into high-level and low-level issues. High-level issues include the “one China” principle, on which the two sides came to a consensus in 1992, that is, “one China, respective interpretations.”
As to low-level matters, in the past five years we have signed 19 agreements, some of which are politically very sensitive. For example, the Cross-Strait Agreement on Joint Crime-fighting and Judicial Mutual Assistance we signed in 2009 concerns the two sides’ exercise of public authority and jurisdiction, which is clearly politically sensitive. But operations taking place under it have gone well for four years now. While the agreement concerns sensitive topics, the agreement itself is neutral. What is more, thanks to this agreement, the two sides have arrested over 5,000 criminals.
The agreement on the establishment of representative offices in each other’s territory that we are now negotiating is similar in that it is also politically very sensitive, but the institutions themselves are neutral. So it is not the case that we are deliberately evading political questions. Our principle is to address pressing issues before less pressing ones, easy ones before difficult ones, and economic ones before political ones. It is not the case that we are only addressing economic issues and avoiding political ones. Where the time is ripe and the issue is pressing, we address these issues. But right now, we believe we should address the issue of establishing representative offices, as these can offer services and help to our people traveling, doing business, or studying in mainland China. So we are not avoiding such issues.
Washington Post: Is it possible that in your generation the two sides of the Taiwan Strait engage in political negotiations?
President Ma: The mainland hopes to discuss a cross-strait peace agreement. But our people are somewhat concerned that such talks would end up as a discussion about unification. So two years ago, when we first brought up this issue, we thought it would be best to first put it to a referendum to confirm that we had strong public support. If so, it would be easier to move on with discussions. Mainland China has brought up talking about mutual military confidence-building measures. This is also very sensitive. However, at this time, we have not reached consensus in Taiwan. Though we have seen continuing development in cross-strait relations, on this issue, perhaps there will be a time—when the issue is perhaps not so sensitive and when we have a consensus—at which point we would not rule out discussing it.