Taiwan Says It Is Not Ready for Peace Talks With China

By Jane Rickards and Ariana Eunjung Cha
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, March 6, 2009

TAIPEI, Taiwan, March 5 -- Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou on Thursday ruled out any near-term prospect of peace talks with China, saying relations are too tenuous to consider discussing political or military issues.

"At this stage we will only talk about economic and trade issues," Taiwanese presidential spokesman Wang Yu-chi said.

Wang was responding to new calls for discussions between Beijing and Taipei that were made by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Thursday at the opening session of the annual National People's Congress. In a speech to China's parliament, Wen said he is "ready to hold talks on cross-strait political and military issues and create conditions for ending the state of hostility and concluding a peace agreement between the two sides."

China has claimed that Taiwan is a part of China since the Communist forces defeated the Nationalists during a civil war in 1949 and the latter group fled to the island.

Since Ma took office in May, cooperation has increased dramatically and the two sides have worked together to launch direct flights and postal service.

Discussions about further economic cooperation, perhaps in the form of a free-trade agreement, have accelerated as the global economic crisis has battered both Taiwan and China. Chinese officials have said the continued support of Taiwanese factory owners is important to their country's manufacturing sector, and Taiwan has said it hopes to remove barriers so that wealthy Chinese can begin investing more easily in the other direction. China is Taiwan's largest trading partner, with volume of more than $130 billion each year.

Analysts in Taiwan and on the mainland said Wen's overtures are unlikely to bring substantial results in the short term, given the substantial domestic political pressure on Ma from those who remain wary of Beijing's motives.

"Accepting the 'one China' principle would be political suicide for Ma," said George Tsai, a professor of politics at Taipei's Chinese Culture University.

Before moving forward with any discussion with China, Taiwan must first resolve its domestic debate, said Zhang Wensheng, a Taiwan researcher from Xiamen University on the mainland. "There is a lack of consensus on military and political talks within the island itself," Zhang said.

Ma, who is expected to run for election again in 2012, has said he wants to put aside political differences to focus on creating closer business and economic ties.

Wen did not announce plans for additional economic stimulus measures at Thursday's National People's Congress, as some analysts had expected him to do. China had announced a $586 billion stimulus plan late last year, but Wen's decision not to introduce a second round of spending -- at least for now -- sent global markets lower.

Cha reported from Beijing. Researcher Wang Juan in Beijing contributed to this report.

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