Election slump fails to dampen China talks

Dec. 9, 2009 at 11:00 AM
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TAIPEI, Taiwan, Dec. 9 (UPI) -- The Taiwanese government will push ahead with its proposed economic cooperation framework agreement with mainland China despite opposition gains in local elections.

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou said the ECFA remains a good deal for Taiwan and will help secure the island nation's economic future, a report on the Taipei-based China Post said.

Ma's statements come after his Kuomintang Party, which favors closer ties with Beijing, suffered a relative setback in local elections last weekend for city and town mayors and county-level magistrates.

Kuomintang maintained its seat majority, although a reduced one at the hands of the Democratic Progressive Party that supports formal independence from China.

Kuomintang won in 12 out of the 17 counties and cities where magistrate and mayoral races were held. The DPP won four of the local areas, and an independent candidate won the remaining area.

Supporters of the DPP warn the government is planning a free-market deal that means the eventual running down of Taiwan industries as businesses flock to the mainland, whose consumer goods will flood the island market.

Ma said the ECFA issue will not be discussed in any great detail in cross-strait talks scheduled later this month, the China Post report noted.

The fourth and latest round of meetings will be between P.K. Chiang, chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation, and Chen Yunlin, president of the Beijing-based Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits.

On the table for discussion will be four major issues -- fishery cooperation, avoidance of double taxation, examination and certification of standards, and the inspection and quarantine of agricultural products for public health.

Analysts believe that trade talks between the two long-time adversaries -- China claims Taiwan as an integral part of the mainland -- could lead to less military tension across the 112-mile-wide Taiwan Strait. In the 1949 Chinese civil war the Kuomintang government was defeated by communist forces. Kuomintang's political leaders escaped to the island and set up a rival government.

Mistrust on both sides has characterized much political dialogue over the years.

Ma went out of his way to say that discussions will be purely technical in nature to lay down ground rules for efficient trade. He has also asked relevant government agencies to make public all the details to dispel misunderstandings and misconceptions.

Ma, who must face the electorate in 2012, pointed to the recent signing of a memorandum of understanding for cooperation on financial supervision between the two sides as an example of open dialogue. The memorandum was immediately posted on the Web site of the Financial Supervisory Commission after the signing.

Ma also pointed out that the former DPP government opened imports of nearly 1,000 agricultural products from the mainland. But, he said, the Kuomintang government, formed in mid-2008, has not opened up imports of any kind.

An Asia Times Online report shows that the DPP won 45.32 percent of all votes in the recent elections, up from nearly 42 percent four years ago at the last polling.

Kuomintang's share of the vote slipped to around 48 percent from 51 percent in 2005.

Since Ma came into office in May 2008, the economy has experienced its worst recession, the Asia Times report said. Exports are plunging and unemployment reaching a record high of more than 6 percent.

But some recovery signs are appearing. Taiwan's jobless rate dropped last month, exports rose in October -- the first time in a year -- and the economy is expected to return to growth in the last quarter of 2009.

But Ma's administration suffered stinging criticism as it grappled with the disaster left by Typhoon Morakot in August. The worst typhoon in half a century killed more than 600 people. Government ministers appeared flat-footed, failing to call out soldiers early on after the storm hit, and initially rejecting foreign aid.

The DPP has also played up fears of mad cow disease after the government lifted a ban on some U.S. beef products.

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