Patrick B. McGuigan
TAIPEI, TAIWAN -- President Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan (Republic of China) asserts that trade and other relations with the United States are among the most important priorities for his government at the start of his second term.
At an international press conference on the day of his inauguration (Sunday, May 20), President Ma observed the critical role the United States plays as Taiwan’s third largest trading partner, and pointed to the continued importance of America’s sale of military supplies to promote the island Republic’s security.
In response to a question from CapitolBeatOK, Ma said his government looks forward to resuming trade negotiations to open up additional markets for both Taiwan and the U.S. Issues clouding recent relations include problems of investment and double taxation, and the vexing question of the additive ractopamine in American beef.
Ma told CapitolBeatOK American representatives have been ready for negotiations since January, the month he won his second term in nationwide elections. He continued, in the “real-time” translation provided to reporters, saying, “Our own experts have reviewed the use of ractopamine to make sure of its safety. We have found no evidence that it is harmful. So far, there hasn’t been found any cause to believe there are dangers to consumers.”
Ma concluded, in the translator’s words, “Our hope is to resume the discussions with the U.S. It is very important to the future of Taiwan and the U.S., our third biggest partner.”
Consumer activists and environmentalists on Taiwan have protested the presence of ractopamine, which promotes leanness, in most American beef. The issue has been one of a cluster of matters that have led to large protests against Ma’s fiscal and other policies as he begins his second term.
Despite tensions over the additive, Oklahoma’s trade ties with Taiwan have steadily improved in dollar value over recent years, reaching all-time highs in 2011.
At another point in the international press conference, Ma reflected, “On the beef imports, the decision has been reached by experts that the beef is safe. We have drafted permits to move forward, excluding the import of internal organs.”
Ma described the United States as “good partners” and said that is one of the reasons he seeks to work with the American beef producers to assure fairness. Ma expressed specific hopes for free trade agreements in the next few years with Singapore, New Zealand and a handful of other countries.
Ma has sought to assuage critics over several days with apologies for his style without surrendering the heart of policy on key points. However, he gently rebuffed a theme in some news reports that legislative members of his party, the Kuomintang (Nationalists) were not consulted before his administration stated its desire to advance toward renewed American beef imports.
He said, according to the translator, “Before news of our policies was released, we included all the decision-makers, these were not only me but all the legislative members of the KMT.”
Ma also discussed the importance of continued progress in relations across the Taiwan Straits, stressing that the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) on the mainland has for several years now been his country’s largest trading partner.
A notable theme in his remarks at the press conference, in his inaugural address and in a spontaneous session with local journalists last week has been his steady acknowledgment of what he deems “errors in the timing, method and process of the reforms we advance. We caused some complaint for the people. I feel sorry I did not fully anticipate the expectations of the people. We are seeking how to promote our views more effectively, and to better use the views of the people as a mirror to ourselves. We must be more empathetic.”
Other significant issues addressed in the session with international reporters included Taiwan’s evolving relations with the mainland, possible visits from mainland officials, the status of human rights in the PRC, tensions over territorial claims in the South China Sea, the “high priority” assigned to good relations with Latin American countries (several of whom have retained formal diplomatic ties with the ROC), and the European debt crisis.
Concerning the near-collapse of Greece’s economy and the Euro crisis, President Ma and other Taiwan officials have said their nation is comparatively insulated from the effects. They also said, in response to one reporter’s question, they were uncertain if Taiwan could be of direct assistance in countering the slide.
However, Ma and other officials have pointed to the negative impact the troubles have had for Taiwan’s own stock market, and said the ROC is carefully monitoring the situation.
Note: McGuigan is covering the start of President Ma’s second term. In 1998, McGuigan received the International Communication Award from the government of Taiwan (Republic of China) for his coverage of democracy, human rights and free markets in Chinese-speaking nations. This trip, his fourth visit to the island Republic, was sponsored by the government of Taiwan.