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Transcript: Post's interview with Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou

Thursday, February 17, 2011; 9:30 AM

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou on Thursday pressed his case for continued American weapons sales to the island, including advanced U.S.-made fighter jets, saying Taiwan needs to negotiate with China from a position of strength. Ma, in an interview, said Taiwan needed both new F-16C/D fighter jets to modernize its fleet, and also upgrades to its existing F-16A/B class fighters, which are aging and in need of replacement parts. The Pentagon is still studying the request. What follows is a transcript of Ma's interview with The Washington Post. The transcript was compiled by the Taiwanese government.

Q1. Washington Post: So the first question I wanted to ask you is simply to assess how relations are across the Strait. I mean, since you've been President in 2008, there have been so many huge changes. And I was able to fly here direct from Beijing, for example. And you've got the new economic cooperation agreement, but at the same time, there are still questions about buying new weapon systems from the United States; you're developing your own missile system here. So just how would you assess overall the relationship with China?

President Ma: When I took office two years and nine months ago, our objective of improving cross-strait relations was to pursue peace and prosperity across the Taiwan Strait. From the experience of the past two years and nine months, now we have basically allowed both sides of the Strait to maintain the current state of "no unification, no independence, and no use of force" while they pursue the goals of peace and prosperity. At the same time, we have been able to promote development of the cross-strait relationship based on the principles of parity and dignity. We feel that the current situation is the most stable of any time in 60 years.

Q2. Washington Post: Just to continue that, since the relations are good, and everybody on both sides agrees to that, why, for example, are you still developing your own missile system? And why are you still requesting the new F-16C/Ds from the United States? Shouldn't this be a time to be decreasing missile weapons?

President Ma: Our objective in improving cross-strait relations is to seek peace and prosperity. However, the Republic of China (Taiwan) is a sovereign state; we must have our national defense. While we negotiate with the mainland, we hope to carry out such talks with sufficient self-defense capabilities and not negotiate out of fear. This is an extremely important principle. Therefore, we must purchase the necessary defensive weapons from overseas that cannot be manufactured here in Taiwan to replace outdated ones. This is essential for our national survival and development.

As I just said, the current state of cross-strait relations is "no unification, no independence and no use of force." We oppose the use of military force to resolve cross-strait disputes. However, this is not to say that we cannot maintain a military capability necessary for Taiwan's security.

Q3. Washington Post: Can I ask you, just to continue about the military systems, I mean, you made a request for the F-16 C/Ds. As far as I know, there hasn't been a response yet. What do you know about that, and would you be willing to accept something else, like a modification of the F-16 A/Bs that you now have?

President Ma: In fact, we have sought to acquire F-16/C/D fighter jets from the United States for quite a few years. The Americans keep telling us that it is under assessment, but no decision has been forthcoming.

As for the other part, some of the equipment on the F-16A/B jet fighters owned by our Air Force is gradually aging and needs to be updated. Thus, we consider these two needs to be complementary and not mutually conflicting. We hope that, through these two strenuous efforts, Taiwan's Air Force can maintain a certain defensive and fighting capability.

Q4. Washington Post: As you know, President Hu Jintao was just in Washington, and the Chinese always make these weapons sales a huge issue. U.S.-China relations get going well, and then there's a weapons sale to Taiwan, and then they go back to being soured again. Are you worried that the Americans may be more interested now in keeping good relations with China as they start to consider this weapons package?

President Ma: In fact, ever since the United States established formal diplomatic ties with the mainland China, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan have always been an issue between the U.S. and mainland in their relationship. Thus, there was the August 17 Communiqué in 1982 to deal with this issue. Over the nearly 30 years from 1982 to today, the United States has sold weapons of a defensive nature to Taiwan based on the Taiwan Relations Act. These weapons sales are in fact helpful for peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait; they enable Taiwan to improve relations with the mainland while maintaining a defensive capability. So, we have always received commitments from the Americans that these arms sales to Taiwan as well as other forms of military cooperation will continue.

Q5. Washington Post: Can I just ask one last question on the arms sales? This recent case about the Taiwanese general who was caught in an espionage trap selling secrets to China¿do you think that will have any impact on how the U.S. views selling sensitive equipment to Taiwan?

President Ma: Major General Lo Hsien-che's case of alleged leaking of military secrets to the mainland started in 2002, when the Democratic Progressive Party was in power. After we took office, we discovered this case last year and immediately launched an investigation. Military prosecutors detained General Lo this January. However, before that, we had already begun damage control regarding what information might have been leaked and the channels by which the leaks occurred. At the same time, we are continuing to investigate whether there were accomplices or other military secrets involved. We will take safeguards to prevent any further occurrences of this kind. This is a very serious case that we deeply regret and which has put us on alert. In the future, we will take stricter safeguards to prevent recurrences of this kind of case. However, our cooperation in the military sphere with the United States has not been affected in any way so far; and we will continue our cooperation.

Q6. Washington Post: Just to follow that up, do you know now, yet, if any sensitive information was given to the mainland Chinese?

President Ma: So far, we of course have discovered that Lo leaked some military intelligence. But as the investigation is still underway, we cannot disclose anything further. Having discovered that he has leaked information, we have undertaken damage control measures to minimize the harm.

Q7. Washington Post: Can I turn to the economic cooperation agreement? I know the benefits from reading some of the information on the website. Some of the critics say that the Taiwanese economy wasn't quite ready for this giant mainland economy across the strait, and that Taiwan could end up being swallowed by the mainland if you're not careful. How do you respond to that?

President Ma: When we started planning to negotiate a cross-strait economic cooperation framework agreement, or ECFA, with mainland China a year or so ago, 58 FTAs or similar arrangements had already been signed in Asia between 2000 and 2009. Only two countries had not taken part in this regional economic integration: One was the Republic of China, the other, North Korea. The ROC's external trade last year amounted to US$526 billion. [Even in the depths of the global financial crisis,] it exceeded US$400 billion; while North Korea's external trade was only US$4.3 billion. We were a fairly large trading nation, yet were excluded from regional economic integration. This was a serious problem, especially in view of the fact that ASEAN was about to sign an economic cooperation framework agreement with mainland China, after which Taiwanese products competing in the mainland Chinese market with those from Southeast Asia would be immediately affected.

At that time we therefore felt that if we failed to take action, Taiwan would surely be marginalized in the process of economic integration, and if this happened it would be too late for us to save the situation. So beginning the year before last, we started talks with the mainland and finally decided to sign an agreement with them. Formal negotiations took about six months to complete.

Now that the ECFA has been signed, Taiwan can export 539 items to mainland China tariff-free [after a couple of years], while the mainland can export 267 items to Taiwan. Signing this sort of treaty has changed Taiwan's status in the East Asian economy. It provides us with greater opportunities not only in trade with mainland China but with other countries as well. It also enables us to negotiate similar agreements with other countries, which is very important for Taiwan.

Signing the ECFA has enabled economic relations between Taiwan and mainland China to become institutionalized while also enhancing Taiwan's level of internationalization. All in all, it has been highly beneficial to Taiwan. At first, perhaps, people didn't entirely understand this. But after a year and a half of explanation, most people now support our signing of the agreement, and some businesses have already begun to benefit from its implementation. I believe that if we continue developing in this direction, we will create an even higher degree of benefit for Taiwan.

Q8. Washington Post: Will there be some people who lose out because of this¿farmers for example?

President Ma: Actually, our farmers are the greatest beneficiaries of the ECFA because on the one hand, no new items of agricultural goods will be imported from mainland China, while the number of items we can export to the mainland has increased by 18. Adding the original 34 items, that comes to 52 items. And this is great news for farmers and fishermen who produce such goods¿such as grouper fish, orchids or other agricultural products. Because of their increased exports and expanding markets resulting from reduced tariffs, more and more of them understand that ECFA is good for them¿especially since we haven't opened Taiwan's market to any new types of agricultural imports.

As for traditional industries, especially relatively labor-intensive industries, we were originally concerned that importation of 17 categories of products would affect local producers' abilities to survive and develop. But these categories¿including garments, bedding and porcelain tiles¿likewise weren't opened to importation, so local producers are not affected by competition from mainland goods. On the contrary, some of Taiwan's agricultural products are quite competitive and can be exported to mainland China. Our garment and bedding industries, for example, make high-end products which they have confidence that they can win a share of the mainland market.

Of course these categories are just those included in the ECFA "early harvest list," and we will continue to negotiate on other items of trade in goods and services. At least at this stage, however, the agricultural sector and traditional industries for which there was concern of being impacted by the ECFA have not been affected. So we believe the agreement is a good one for Taiwan, and more and more people are realizing this.

Q9. Washington Post: Where do you see the negotiations leading? Do you see them going, for example, at some point into the political realm, or will it strictly stay in the economic sphere?

President Ma: As I just stated, as far as ECFA is concerned, we have only completed 20 percent of the list of dutiable products so we still have a long way to go. Currently, we are in negotiations with the mainland over an investment protection agreement and a dispute settlement agreement, both of which are vital to Taiwan. This is because we have at least 70,000 companies investing over US$100 billion in mainland China, according to estimates. For our investors, the kind of protection they will have on the mainland¿especially in regards to their personal safety¿is very important. On the other hand, Taiwan and the mainland have been engaging in trade and investment for over two decades but the two sides still lack a normally used dispute settlement mechanism. So we hope to take this opportunity to build these mechanisms. ECFA is only a beginning; it is not an end, and there is still much to negotiate following the ECFA.

In addition to what I just said, it will take quite some time to institutionalize trade relations between two economies as large as ours. Although we have already concluded 15 accords, I believe we will need to sign many more similar agreements in the future. For example, in terms of culture, many publishers from Taiwan would like to sell their books or audio-visual products on the mainland, but that market has yet to be opened to us. Similarly, Taiwan has also placed various restrictions on products imported from the mainland. 1So this is an area that we can discuss in the future.

As for whether our negotiations with the mainland will enter the political realm, this will have to take a lower priority because both sides have agreed to start from economics, and political issues are not the priority. Our approach is to "put economics before politics, pressing matters before less pressing ones, and easily resolved issues before difficult ones."

Q10. Washington Post: President Ma, you recently said that Taiwanese should not call China by any other name but "the mainland" or "the other side of the strait." What do you hope to accomplish by that name change?

President Ma: Actually, what I said originally differs from what you just described. What I said was that the government in its official documents should refer to mainland China as "mainland China," "the mainland" or "the mainland area" rather than as "China." Why? Because the ROC Constitution defines mainland China to be the "mainland area of the Republic of China." As public officials, therefore, we must draft our official documents in accordance with the law. We have not required that people outside the government follow this convention.

This distinction between the Taiwan area and the mainland area was already established in the Constitution 20 years ago when we amended it. For us, this is a very important distinction. As president, I must follow our Constitution and must also ask our public servants to do the same when conducting official matters. I believe some people in the private sector also use this kind of name differentiation, but I only request our public servants to follow this usage in the context of conducting public affairs.

In fact, this terminology was set 20 years ago; former President Lee Teng-hui and the subsequent Democratic Progressive Party administration during its eight years in office did not change it. On the other hand, in the private sector, the terms used are more diverse. Some use "the mainland," some prefer "mainland China" and others use "China." For example, the media often refer to mainland students studying in Taiwan as "mainland students" rather than "Chinese students." And for investment capital from mainland China, the government calls it "mainland capital" while some in the private sector use "Chinese capital." In this respect, the government has its own stance and its own requirements, but we do not require the private sector to follow suit.

Q11. Washington Post: Can I ask you about political reform in China? How do you see it?

President Ma: We have always been concerned about political reform in mainland China; this is not something that began just recently. We have noticed some elements of political reform over the past 30 years amid the economic reform taking place on the mainland, but it is quite obvious that political reform has lagged far behind economic reform there. Thus, we have most recently seen mainland leaders such as Hu Jintao or Wen Jiabao mentioning promotion of political reforms. They have even on many occasions talked of democracy, saying that democracy is a very good system. We are naturally delighted to see this.

Q12. Washington Post: Do you think it's important for Taiwan to speak up on human rights issues in China?

President Ma: Safeguarding human rights has always been our core value, especially since Taiwan was under martial law for 38 of the past 60 years, when the people's rights and freedoms were considerably restricted. These restrictions were gradually removed after martial law was lifted in 1987; now Taiwan is a full-fledged democracy. Thus, we truly cherish our democratic system, our human rights safeguards and the rule of law.

Naturally, we hope that the mainland as it interacts with us can gradually become free and democratic. Of course, we know that this is not an easy task. However, the existence of Taiwan in fact serves this sort of mutual caring function with respect to the mainland. Therefore, we have always expressed our stance on related issues.

For example, throughout the many years of my political career, every year following the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Incident I have either attended an event or issued a statement expressing hopes that the mainland Chinese leadership would face the families of the victims. When the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Liu Xiaobo, I also issued a statement urging the mainland to release him and to govern with the benevolence and noble leadership consonant with Chinese culture. Thus, we express our stance regarding this kind of issue at the appropriate time.

That is because this is a core value for us in Taiwan and a very important indicator by which to observe how close cross-strait relations are. Our people also watch whether our president is asserting our core values. Therefore, we will continue to express our stance at appropriate times.

We also want to specially emphasize the reason we express our concern is because Taiwan has had similar experiences in the past. Our government has come forth to acknowledge the faults committed during the February 28 Incident and the period of White Terror, making apologies and providing compensation. This is the only way to heal the wounds in our society, achieve social harmony, and bring people together to move forward.

Here¿ I have prepared for your reference statements we have issued in the past regarding the June 4 incident in Tiananmen. This is our core value and we will not change.

Q. 13. Washington Post: There have been a lot of arrests and house arrests in China, including Liu Xiaobo's wife. Do you think things are actually going backwards in China?

President Ma: We are still watching the situation. However, we most certainly believe that social development on the mainland is now very different than before. When people become affluent, they have more opinions on public matters. In addition, over the past 30 years, more and more people on the mainland have acquired an education and the number of universities has increased many times over. These factors will lead to greater expectations on the mainland for democratic reforms, a phenomenon of which the mainland leadership is also aware. Thus, we have great expectations that the mainland China can continue moving in this direction. This will not only benefit people on the mainland, it will narrow the gap between Taiwan and the mainland. This will greatly aid improvement of relations between the two sides and the pursuit of cross-strait peace.

Another factor is that both Taiwan and the mainland have joined the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Taiwan has incorporated the two covenants into our domestic laws. Mainland China signed and approved the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, while the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was signed but not approved. We hope the mainland authorities can approve and adopt the latter, so that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait could compete in the area of human rights safeguards, which will be of great help to their peoples.

Q14. Washington Post: Just a final question on that. Do you expect any change in China with the new leadership coming in, led by Xi Jinping?

President Ma: We hope so. We would like to see gradually more progress on the mainland. On the one hand, from Taiwan's point of view, this would further improve cross-strait relations; while on the other hand, it would give the people of mainland China greater opportunity to voice their own opinions. The mainland now attaches great importance to Chinese culture, in utter contrast to 40 years ago when the Cultural Revolution was launched. We have emphasized that from the perspective of Chinese culture, it entails compassion for humankind and all beings, as well as benevolent governance. Under such circumstances, both sides of the Strait have a foundation for discussing human rights protection and the rule of law. In fact, these are implicitly Chinese cultural ideas, and constitute a very important direction [in which the two sides can proceed].

Q15. Washington Post: The mainland has also been exporting Chinese culture abroad through these Confucian centers. I just discovered yesterday that there is something in the works here called the Taiwan Academies? What's that about?

President Ma: The idea behind the Taiwan Academies is to showcase some of Taiwan's cultural achievements over the past 60 years. I have often said that Taiwan culture is a kind of Chinese culture with Taiwanese characteristics. Its roots may have come from mainland China, but it has merged with other cultures here in Taiwan and has developed new features. This is what we wish to convey in the Taiwan Academies.

Our academies do not necessarily operate in competition with mainland China's Confucius Institutes. We talk about Confucius too, but more than that, we talk about how we apply Confucian philosophy in Taiwan. Recently, a group of well-known mainland painters came to Taiwan and were very impressed by how Confucianism is practiced here¿much better than in mainland China. This is an area of Chinese culture that both sides can compete in and learn from; it's a very important channel.

Mainland China has already established more than 500 Confucius Institutes around the world while we have just begun setting up our academies. But we are not worried because in addition to teaching the Chinese language, we will also promote Chinese culture with Taiwanese characteristics, including our way of thinking, our philosophy and various forms of art.

An important point to note is that while we applaud the mainland's efforts to promote Chinese culture and advocate Confucianism, we also hope that they will move beyond simply promoting the formalities of Confucianism and truly practice that philosophy in their lives. This is also the direction in which Taiwan is moving.

Q16. Washington Post: Where will the first one be, the first Taiwan Academy?

President Ma: One in Houston and one in California.

Q17. Washington Post: I understand promoting Taiwanese culture separate of mainland China is important for you, Mr. President.

President Ma: In fact, Chinese culture is consistent, including Confucianism as I have just mentioned, but actual practice is the important thing. Over the past decade or so, Confucianism has received great attention on the mainland. This is surprising, but also comforting for us to see. Many people, from students to entrepreneurs, are hiring private teachers to instruct them in Confucian philosophy. In Taiwan, however, Confucian philosophy has been taught in schools for the past six decades, and every student has studied it. If mainland China can move in this direction, I believe it will be the right direction and can promote closer cross-strait relations.

We want to emphasize that our friends on the mainland can learn much from the unique culture we have developed in Taiwan, including our pop culture, pop music, publications and religion. While these things also exist on the mainland, they have not developed as widely or quickly as in Taiwan. Take our religions, for example. Religion in Taiwan has become socially engaged and internationally connected. It has developed corporate management know-how and is driven by volunteerism. These trends have not been seen on the mainland but are of great importance to the development of religion. Faith can have a profound influence on people's lives and contribute significantly to the forming of a civil society. I believe this is an area in which the mainland can emulate Taiwan. Chinese culture with Taiwanese characteristics is an important aspect and marketing point for Taiwan and can serve as a frame of reference for the mainland.

Q18. Washington Post: I've just been told the time is almost up so I'll just end with one final question. Are you planning to run for re-election next year? Do you expect it to be a tough race?

President Ma: When I ran for president four years ago, my political plans were intended to be accomplished over eight years' time. Just like when I ran for mayor of Taipei City; my plans were for eight years. This is because we need a longer timeframe to realize our platform.

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