On September 29, 2015, Taiwan’s president Ma Ying-jeou held his first videoconference with Members of the European Parliament since 2009. Earlier videoconferences of the President had been with academic institutions in the United States. They had proven to be effective platforms for exchanging ideas. Ma thanked the European Parliament Taiwan Friendship Group for the long-standing efforts to promote Taiwan-EU partnership. Below excerpts from the opening statement of the President:
First of all, I’d like to [mention] The European Experience that has inspired us here in the Republic of China (Taiwan).
Although France and Germany had been engaged in conflict for over a century, after World War II they launched a massive student exchange program that involved millions of young people. That program completely changed Franco-German relations, and together, those two countries became the mainstays of European unity.
After the Maastricht Treaty was signed in 1992, Europe decided to make the Euro its sole currency. France and Germany were ready to abandon their proud national currencies, the franc and the Deutsche mark, in favor of the Euro. I was visiting Europe at the time and was overwhelmed with admiration.
The second inspiration comes from the North Sea. In 1959 vast reserves of petroleum and natural gas were discovered on the North Sea continental shelf. But in the 1960s disputes arose as the UK, Germany, Denmark, and Norway all claimed sovereignty over that maritime zone. (Comment: here President Ma refers to the court cases in The Hague that solved the North Sea disputes)
In August of 2012 I proposed the East China Sea Peace Initiative. Its core spirit is that although sovereignty cannot be compromised, resources can be shared, and urges all the relevant parties to shelve sovereignty disputes, resolve conflicts by peaceful means, and share natural resources. So in April of 2013, Taiwan and Japan reached a fisheries agreement by shelving the territorial disputes that had clouded our relationship for 40 years. Before the agreement, we had, on average, over ten disputes per year; after that, we’ve had none. And the fishery catch more than doubled. These are concrete achievements that show how the East China Sea Peace Initiative works in practice, helping to promote regional peace and prosperity.
Based on the success of the East China Sea Peace Initiative, in May of this year I also proposed a South China Sea Peace Initiative. My goal was to work together with all the stakeholders in the South China Sea to maintain stability, jointly develop natural resources, shelve territorial disputes, and foster long-term regional peace and prosperity.
The third European experience is the Basis of Relations Agreement, the Grundlagenvertrag, signed by East and West Germany in 1972. Both of them had already acknowledged their counterpart’s authority to govern. But they used the concept of Hoheitsgewalt, meaning supreme power, to decouple that authority from the traditional concept of sovereignty, orSouveränität.
Of course, the historical context of the two Germanies and the cross-strait circumstances at that time were quite different. But the situation in Germany still gave us much inspiration in thinking about cross-strait policy. The current cross-strait position, which entails the “mutual non-recognition of sovereignty, and mutual non-denial of governing authority,” was influenced by the concept of separating sovereignty and governing authority adopted by the two Germanies, and has been a great asset in the development of cross-strait peace and stability.
Since I became president in 2008, under the framework of the ROC Constitution, we have maintained the cross-strait status quo, defined as “no unification, no independence, and no use of force.” And based on the 1992 Consensus, whereby each side insists on the existence of “one China” but maintains its own interpretation of what that “China” means, we have continued to promote peaceful development in the Taiwan Strait. As a result, against the historical backdrop of the past 66 years, stability and peace in cross-strait relations are now at an all-time high.
Since I became president in 2008, the relationship between Taiwan and the EU and its member states has continued to advance. The most important indicator of that progress came in January of 2011 when the EU included Taiwan nationals in the Schengen visa waiver program.
It’s worth mentioning that in the 20 years between 1988 and 2008, only 54 countries or areas offered Taiwan nationals visa-free courtesies or landing visas. But since I took office in 2008, we have added 94 jurisdictions; in 2011 alone, we added 63. Taiwan citizens now enjoy visa conveniences in 148 jurisdictions. In addition to the 35 countries and territories in Europe that gave us the Schengen visa exemption, numerous other jurisdictions saw what the EU had done, and then followed suit. That includes 11 overseas territories of France, and six of Holland’s, as well as European countries like Albania and Kosovo.
So the European Parliament has been quite influential, directly or indirectly accounting for half of the countries and areas that extend visa-free courtesies to Taiwan nationals. So here, I want to acknowledge the Parliament’s tremendous contribution to Taiwan, and express my sincere thanks. Over the past seven years, Taiwan has signed 79 official agreements and memorandums of understanding with the EU and European countries, covering cooperative relationships on various levels, and in various areas including technology, education, customs and tariffs, telecommunications, judicial assistance, youth working holiday programs, food safety, innovation, and R&D.
The European Union is also very concerned about political and economic developments in Taiwan.
Taiwan and the EU have strong economic and trade relations. The EU is Taiwan’s fifth-largest trading partner, and Taiwan is the EU’s seventh-largest trading partner in Asia, and 19th largest overall. In 2014, two-way trade reached 50.9 billion US dollars, up 3.7% over the previous year. The EU is also Taiwan’s largest aggregate source of foreign investment, with total investments reaching 33 billion US dollars by the end of 2014.
So I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the European Parliament for passing a resolution on Taiwan-EU trade relations back in October of 2013. That resolution calls on the European Commission to begin talks with the ROC on an investment protection and market access agreement. Since the EU and mainland China have been in talks about an investment agreement for almost two years, from a strategic point of view, the best time for the EU and Taiwan to start parallel talks on a bilateral investment agreement is…now.
I hereby propose that the EU open talks with Taiwan on a bilateral investment agreement, which will have a synergistic effect with our cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), and generate a cross-strait “peace dividend” that will benefit one and all.
Since day one of my tenure as president, I have pursued a path of viable diplomacy, stabilizing and strengthening relationships with our existing allies.
Our efforts toward greater international participation over the past 7 years have seen some success. In 2009 Taiwan became a signatory to the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA). Since then, the World Health Organization (WHO) has also invited the ROC to participate in the World Health Assembly (WHA) as an observer for seven consecutive years. And in 2013, the director general of Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration was also invited to attend the 38th annual conference of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) as a special guest.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank the EU for their continuing support for Taiwan in our quest for meaningful participation in international organizations. We also hope that the European Parliament will continue to pass resolutions supporting Taiwan’s meaningful participation in global cooperative efforts such as the UNFCCC, the ICAO, and the WHO, as well as international organizations, conventions, and mechanisms that are responding to the challenges of globalization.
For over 60 years, the European Union has been transforming hostility into friendship, while actively promoting peace, reconciliation, democracy, and human rights in Europe, garnering the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012. Here I would like to publicly state that the EU’s Peace Prize was indeed richly deserved, and that I was among your most enthusiastic supporters.
Taiwan and the EU share the universal values of freedom, democracy, rule of law, and human rights. I fully intend to work with the EU and its member states to strengthen Taiwan-EU relations, fostering an even closer and more solid partnership. At the same time, Taiwan will continue to act as a peacemaker, working with all of the countries in the Asia-Pacific region to maintain regional peace and prosperity.
Thank you all for listening. Our program will now continue with a Q&A session, so please do submit your questions.
I hope you will all find today’s videoconference both stimulating, and enlightening. Thank you very much!
Comment: This statement by President Ma is an important overview of what has been achieved by his administration. Of significance to solving border problems in Asia is the German model and also growing friendship between for instance Germany and Poland in the context of including former Soviet occupied countries in the European family.