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President Ma's Remarks at the International Conference on the Taiwan Relations Act


President Ma's Remarks at the International Conference on the Taiwan Relations Act

Commemorating the 30th Anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act:A New Equilibrium toward Peace and Prosperity

Welcoming Remarks of President Ma Ying-jeou

 Sunday, April 12, 2009

Ambassador Chen, Ambassador Lord, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Good morning!

We gather here today to commemorate a defining moment in the history of the Republic of China—the 30th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), a decision made three decades ago that irrevocably tied the destinies of Taiwan, the United States and even Mainland China together, which to this day continues to define the parameters and horizons of cross-strait development. Therefore, this is as much a commemoration for Taiwan as it is for the United States. The TRA has come to symbolize the strong friendship and trust forged between America and Taiwan over these past decades.

An Overview of the TRA: Embedding a Framework for Peace and Stability

The TRA was enacted in 1979 by the U.S. Congress to cope with the Taiwan situation after the U.S. had switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing. It replaced the terribly inadequate arrangement of the Carter Administration, by keeping all aspects of the Taiwan-U.S. relationship intact except, of course, formal diplomatic ties, a mutual defense treaty and the stationing of American troops in Taiwan. One American commentator said in 1979 that while the U.S.-China joint Communiqué establishing diplomatic relations derecognized Taiwan, the Taiwan Relations Act has re-recognized it. My Harvard professor Detlev Vagt said to me after the passing of TRA that Taiwan is the most recognized unrecognized government of the U.S. In an imperfect world, the TRA, which largely accommodates Taiwan's needs for continuity, reality, security, legality and governmental status in the new Taiwan-U.S. relationship, is the second-best choice for Taiwan. Today the TRA is more than a convenient solution to a political dilemma. Its very existence changed the evolutionary course of cross-strait development by stabilizing the triangular relationship among Taiwan, the United States and mainland China. It serves to check mainland China by balancing the power disparity across the Taiwan Strait, while simultaneously constraining Taiwan from moving toward de jure independence.

Therefore, the TRA has served to anchor peace and stability across the Strait for the past three decades. More importantly, it has allowed both Taiwan and the mainland to concentrate on domestic issues while leaving the contentious problem of unification or de jure independence for the future. During this period, Taiwan has witnessed incredible economic and political achievements, transforming itself into a significant economic force and a vibrant democracy. Correspondingly, 30 years of open door and economic reform have catapulted mainland China into the top echelons of global economic power. Economic prosperity brought new opportunities for cross-strait interaction, whereby trade and investment became a major conduit for bilateral exchange. In fact, the TRA has played a pivotal role in moving the two sides beyond a point of hostility towards a common ground.

Furthermore, The TRA has created a resilient triangular framework whereby relations between the US, Taiwan and the mainland may be stretched and strained but are hard to break. This resilient equilibrium, or a dynamic status quo, is of crucial importance for the peace and stability of East Asia. The peaceful resolution of the missile crises in 1995 and 1996 as well as the attempts by the previous Democratic Progressive Party administration to move toward de jure independence attest to this resilience.

New Platform for Cross-Strait Dynamics

Since coming to office last May, my administration has made unprecedented breakthroughs to reach out to the Chinese mainland within this larger strategic environment embedded in the TRA. Without a doubt, my administration is here to serve the will and needs of our people. As such, we work to maintain the status quo because that has been the dominant voice among our citizens for the last 20 years. Therefore, my administration will never compromise on our sovereignty while extending this olive branch to the mainland. In particular, my policy of "no unification, no independence, and no use of force" will realize the ideals of safeguarding the ROC's security and dignity, rapprochement with the mainland, and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. To achieve this, we have built a framework underpinned by the "1992 Consensus" and "mutual non-denial," which are consistent with the ROC Constitution. The Constitution, itself a major defining component of the status quo, is critical to my administration's mainland policy, because it grants the two sides the freedom to engage in negotiations on issues of more pragmatic concerns while shelving our political disagreements. At the forefront of this new reconciliation is our policy of "flexible diplomacy," which aims to strengthen our substantive relations with the international community while calling for a diplomatic truce with the mainland in our 60-year contest for bilateral diplomatic recognition.

In fact, better relations with the mainland will actually enhance and expand our bilateral horizons. By declaring a diplomatic truce, we no longer have to engage in diplomatic belligerency with the mainland, but instead can concentrate on developing substantive relations with our allies. Furthermore, as we improve relations with the mainland we will also become active and responsible peacemakers in the region. This will have two major effects on expanding our bilateral relations with the rest of the world. First, Taiwan will certainly improve its international credibility. And, second, our "surprise-free" attitude will shed Taiwan's former "troublemaker" image and assure the world that our policies are internationally responsible. In fact, some of our closest allies, such as the United States, Japan and the EU, just to name a few, have already praised us for our policy direction. I especially want to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for recognizing our efforts in defusing the tension of the Taiwan Strait and to former president George W. Bush for his key March 26 telephone conversation with the mainland Chinese leader Hu Jingtao last year on the "1992 Consensus," namely concerning "one China, each side having its respective interpretation."

The US Congress has recently passed Resolution 55 reiterating America's commitment to the TRA as the "cornerstone" of US-Taiwan relations, in which maintaining peace, security and stability in the Taiwan Strait remain the foremost goal. Similarly, AIT Chairman Raymond Burghardt recently characterized America's support for the unprecedented breakthroughs in cross-strait relations as creating a more stable political environment as well as "real, tangible economic benefits" for the United States.

Expanding Foreign Relations

We believe that rapprochement with mainland China will improve Taiwan's prospects for expanding our international space. Certainly, the international community will be a major beneficiary of this change, whether from capitalizing on the new business opportunities thereby made available or simply from no longer being caught in volatile cross-strait relations. For example, the establishment of the Three Links has made it logistically feasible and economically cost-effective to fly, ship or send postage across the Taiwan Strait.

As such, Taiwan has given the world a great incentive to include us in their regional operations. In fact, right after we inaugurated the Three Links across the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan was able to join the Government Procurement Agreement last December, which we had been unable to join in the last six years since we had become a member of the World Trade Organization. This new development is good news to many potential foreign investors in the U.S., Japan and Europe.

In fact, Taiwan has much to offer foreign investors. We are a country with a sophisticated legal infrastructure, a democratically open and stable political system and a viable and liberal economy. My administration is also actively undertaking measures to advance our budding democracy, especially through strengthening the rule of law. As a lawyer by training, I am determined to safeguard and fortify the independence and integrity of the judiciary. In addition, since taking over the helm of this democratic country, my administration has aggressively pushed through measures to strengthen civil liberties. In particular, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights were passed by our Legislative Yuan last week and will come into effect in a few weeks. Meanwhile, last January the US removed Taiwan from its 301 Watch List in view of its improving protection of intellectual property rights. As we are well aware, IPR is the foundation for innovation. I am confident that we are constructing the foundation on which Taiwan's economy will reemerge stronger, leaner and more efficient.

Economic Normalization to Global Integration

We seek not only to create peace in the region but also prosperity for our people. Taiwan must integrate into the global economy if it is to avoid marginalization. We cannot ignore the economic and political power that the mainland has amassed over the past three decades. Mainland China is now the third-largest economy, the largest holder of foreign reserves in the world, and the largest creditor of the U.S. Certainly, this demonstrates how well the Chinese market has thrived in this age of globalization. It is also undeniable that foreign direct investment accounts in large part for the mainland's meteoric economic rise. The mass influx of foreign investment brought with it critical capital, know-how and technology that helped mainland China launch its economic revolution. As a result, nearly every major country in the world has heavily invested in the Chinese market, thus creating tight-knit interdependent business networks.

So, when Taiwan shuns economic relations with the mainland, it also shuns the world. Economic normalization with the Chinese mainland is a path Taiwan must take if it is to stay ahead of global trends. In fact, whether it is the American Chamber of Commerce or the European Chamber of Commerce or other foreign trade missions here, there has been a loud and constant chorus calling for Taiwan to improve economic relations with the mainland. Why? It is very simple: When Taiwan restricts the flow of commerce from the mainland, it forces foreign companies to exclude us from their regional operations. With such restrictions, multinational firms simply are not able to link up their supply chains if they are headquartered in Taiwan. The simple act of flying or shipping across the Taiwan Strait has ceased to be a daunting challenge only until recently. It is not surprising that in the past few years regional integration has been steaming ahead while Taiwan staggers behind. We must not barricade ourselves from the world anymore. What my administration has been doing in the last 10 months is simply to make up for the lost eight years from 2000 to 2008.

We therefore want to end Taiwan's isolation from the world by putting our economic relations with the Chinese mainland on a more normal footing. At the same time, the more contentious political issues will be left on the back burner. We will put off political talks until after a firm foundation of economic, cultural and educational exchanges have been established and buttressed by reciprocal trust and confidence on both sides.

It is true, however, that there still remain innumerable hurdles to overcome, which is why the country must stand united and forge ahead together. The Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) is a case in point. The ECFA is intended to serve as a platform on which the two sides can discuss and resolve important trade issues of mutual concern. This framework is vital to Taiwan's international competitiveness. On January 1st of next year the ASEAN + 1 (mainland China) FTA will come into effect. This means that within this free trade zone, Taiwan exports will be subject to custom tariffs of 6.5-10 percent, while they compete with other goods enjoying zero tariffs. With such a gross imbalance, there is no doubt that Taiwan will be the big loser.

Everything we have done and planned for the future is in the interest of our countrymen first and foremost. Though the idea of ECFA has been frequently criticized by the opposition, I firmly believe that Taiwan, as a trading power must take full advantage of the opportunities presented by the mainland's economic development.

Strengthening the Pillars of the TRA

Undoubtedly, the resilience of the TRA and the recent cross-strait détente have opened new opportunities for Taiwan, the US and the mainland to pave a common path towards cooperation. This new equilibrium can result in a win-win-win situation for all sides. Obviously, America's role is pivotal. For peaceful negotiations to continue, the United States is well advised to not only reaffirm but also bolster its commitments under the TRA. The newfound rapprochement with the mainland only means we must with equal, if not greater, effort work to fortify US-Taiwan relations on the basis of mutual trust. This I believe calls for an expansion of bilateral interaction especially at higher levels so as to always guarantee clear communication and better cooperation. Furthermore, a strong commitment in US arms sales and support for Taiwan's international space will enhance our position in face of a power imbalance now rapidly developing across the strait.

Therefore, we come here today not only to commemorate a historical point in cross-strait relations, but, more importantly, to celebrate the endurance of Taiwan-US relations. The strength of the TRA is more vital and crucial at this critical juncture of development than ever before. The bedrock of US-Taiwan relations, the stability of the status quo and even the entire region hangs in the balance. Therefore, I call on Taiwan and the United States to continue to honor the commitments that have bound their destinies together in common friendship and interest for the past three decades.

Last but not the least, I would like to remind you, ladies and gentlemen, that while TRA is an acronym for Taiwan Relations Act for you, in Taiwan it means something else. It also stands for Taiwan Railway Administration. Well, our TRA, which is over 100 years old, is much older than your TRA. However, our TRA does have something to do with your TRA. On the 30th birthday of your TRA, I hope our relations with each other, and our relations with the Chinese mainland, are all on a steady track like a railway, and smoothly running forward!

Ladies and gentlemen, let's say together:

Happy Birthday T---R---A!

Thank you very much.


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