Ying-jeou Ma

Ying-jeou Ma

For decades, Taiwan has lived under threat of forcible incorporation into the People's Republic of China, which claims the island as its territory.

In this article, the Taiwanese president welcomes the thawing of relations between Taiwan and China.

Since May this year, relations between Taiwan and mainland China have manifested a marked detente in step with our initiatives to improve interaction across the Taiwan Strait. This development has won Taiwan widespread international affirmation for its new-found determination to play peacemaker.

Moreover, having twice undergone peaceful transfers of power between governing parties, Taiwan's democratic government has demonstrated its growing maturity. We hope it can serve not only as an inspiration for other nations in the region, but as a beacon of freedom for Chinese societies everywhere.

After coming to office, this administration [Taiwan government] immediately moved to reactivate the institutionalised cross-strait consultations between Taiwan's semi-official Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and its Chinese counterpart, the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (Arats), which had been in hiatus for over a decade.

This effort produced two rounds of talks, in Beijing in June and in Taipei in November, and half a dozen formal agreements on issues of importance.

Complex historical factors have given rise to a number of challenging disagreements between the two countries.

Despite the ups and downs of cross-strait relations over the past sixty years, the expansion of private-sector interactions has strengthened the common desire of people on both sides for peaceful development.

This administration has unceasingly worked to seize this historic opportunity to open a window for dialogue that can foster the development of an environment conducive to conciliation and peace.

In my May 20 inaugural address [as president of Taiwan], I enunciated the imperative of maintaining the status quo under the framework of the constitution of the Republic of China, meaning no unification talks with China, no creation of an independent Taiwan republic, and no use of force to settle sovereignty issues.

I also asked both sides to "face reality, create a new future, shelve disputes and pursue win-win solutions."

Taipei's expressions of goodwill have met with pragmatic responses from Beijing. As illustrated by cooperation between the two sides in relief efforts for victims of the Sichuan earthquake, Taiwan's participation in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and arrangements for ensuring food safety, we have developed a greatly improved dynamic for interaction.

Premised on the spirit of putting Taiwan first for the benefit of its people, our government has taken judicious steps to advance Taiwan's economic relations with China while reducing confrontation and minimising friction in international affairs so as to secure reasonable international space for Taiwan.

Two decades since the SEF-Arats dialogue was initiated, Taiwan needs to respond to the opportunities and challenges posed by the rise of China and globalisation by continuing to bolster its democracy, laying a firm foundation for sustainable economic development, advancing social equity and fully integrating Taiwan into global frameworks for progressive interaction.

To that end, we are pushing forward regulatory reform with the aim of creating a freer economic environment that will enable Taiwan to enhance its competitive advantages and dissolve barriers to development on all fronts.

The second round of the "Chiang-Chen Talks" held in November marks the first time that such a high-ranking mainland Chinese representative has visited Taiwan.

The delegations signed agreements on sea transport, air transport, postal services and food safety. Implementation of the agreements is expected to greatly facilitate the cross-strait movements of Taiwan's citizens and significantly reduce shipping costs.

The alternation between Taiwan and mainland China as sites for the SEF-Arats talks demonstrates the willingness of both sides to conduct negotiations on an equal footing.

To fully embrace this historic opportunity and cultivate peace in the spirit of humanity's quest for social harmony, the improvement of cross-strait relations must, in part, be manifested in mainland China's cessation of military intimidation and its respect for Taiwan's international space.

China's rapid military build-up has engendered concern regionally and globally. We solemnly call on the authorities to give prudent consideration to the withdrawal of missiles on the opposite side of the strait against Taiwan.

Concerning our international space, we will persist in upholding our principles of "flexible diplomacy" and observing a "diplomatic truce" with regard to antagonistic rivalry...

Promoting peace and warmer relations is in the interest of people on both sides. While the challenges should not be underestimated, we firmly believe this quest deserves our most earnest efforts.

For only in giving it our all can we fulfill our solemn commitment to work for regional peace and stability.

nThe writer is the President of Taiwan