SPIEGEL Interview with Taiwan's President 'Sooner or Later, Beijing Will Move Toward Democracy'
In a SPIEGEL interview, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, 60, speaks about the lack of democracy and human rights on the Chinese mainland, Taipei's links to Beijing and its relationship to the United States.
SPIEGEL: Mr. President, since you took office in May 2008, you have been pursuing closer and closer relations with mainland China. Those relations have become very friendly. At the same time, we are now seeing a wave of repression on mainland China. Dissidents are being arrested, and there have been attacks on striking truck drivers. How do the friendliness and this wave of repression fit together?
Ma: We have always been very concerned about and have followed closely the development of human rights in mainland China. Every year since I took office I have released a public statement on the anniversary of the Tiananmen incident. I also released an official statement at the beginning of October last year when the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, congratulating him and calling on the mainland authorities to restore his freedom. I am one of only nine heads of state in the world to have done this. I have always been concerned (about this issue) and want to stress that human rights are an important indicator for gauging the closeness of cross-strait relations.
SPIEGEL: You have in the past demanded reforms by mainland China. What kind of reforms do you imagine are necessary?
Ma: If you mean political reforms, the mainland leadership over the last year or two has also talked of political reform. We feel that the mainland has improved greatly in terms of economic life over the past 30 years. But, in the areas of freedom, democracy, rule of law and human rights, there is still plenty of room for improvement. In every public statement I have made, I have mentioned that in a new era, mainland China as the world's second-largest economy should understand that, given its status in the world, it should undertake reforms in the aforementioned four areas.
SPIEGEL: But closer relations with a regime which has become so brutal might make people here on Taiwan more anxious for the future.
Ma: As I just mentioned, in facing mainland China, we may witness certain phenomena that of course would affect the impression Taiwan's people have of the other side. This is why I have said that human rights are a very important indicator by which to gauge how close cross-strait relations are.
SPIEGEL: Since the outbreak of the popular unrest in the Arab world, the Communist leaders have reacted by arresting critics of the regime. Does this pushback endanger the dialogue between Taiwan and the mainland?
Ma: At the time these events occurred, the Mainland Affairs Council (eds note: a Taiwanese government agency responsible for policies relating to mainland China) and I issued statements expressing our concern. We primarily stressed hopes that the mainland authorities would demonstrate good will toward the dissidents and allow them more room to express differing views, because these are Taiwan's core values.
SPIEGEL: But so far, the crackdown has not endangered the relationship between Taiwan and mainland China?
Ma: I believe we must continue to carry out exchanges with mainland China in order to have any influence over them. Otherwise, we will not be able to convey to them the meaning behind the values I just mentioned -- those of freedom, democracy, human rights and rule of law that we have in Taiwan. For instance, this coming autumn we will be opening up Taiwan to students from the mainland, and these will be officially enrolled students rather than exchange students. This has tremendous significance for bilateral exchanges and mutual influence between the sides in the future. Your question seems to be asking whether we would cut off cross-strait exchanges whenever the mainland takes strong action against human rights. I feel that this would be unwise.
SPIEGEL: On the economics front, your relationship with mainland China has been getting closer and closer. There are now direct flights between both sides and last year you signed an economic preferential trade agreement that ties Taiwan even closer to the mainland. Will these developments lead to full unification, possibly even during your second term, which you will run for next year?
Ma: When I took office, and even when I was campaigning for the presidency, I enunciated a very clear policy regarding mainland China, which is, under the framework of the constitution of the Republic of China (eds note: the official name of Taiwan), to maintain the status quo of no unification, no independence and no use of force. 'No unification' means that during my term of office, we will not engage in unification talks. 'No independence' means not promoting an independent Taiwan during my term. And 'no use of force' means no use of armed force to resolve cross-strait disputes. At the same time, under the framework of the ROC's constitution, we have put into practice the consensus reached with mainland China in 1992
SPIEGEL: ... which states that there is only one China, but which is interpreted differently by both sides.
Ma: These are all quite clear-cut policies, since, at this moment, everyone in Taiwan feels that such a policy is in Taiwan's best interest.
SPIEGEL: But are you not afraid that you will gradually be suffocated by the economic embrace of the mainland? In economic terms, Taiwan already depends on the mainland and its growth, and your government is in the process of allowing mainland firms to invest in Taiwanese companies. Isn't it only a matter of time before you fall under Beijing's control?
Ma: This sort of scenario won't happen because mainland China has become the world's second-largest economy. The European Union is now the mainland's number one trading partner, having supplanted the United States. And mainland China is the EU's second-largest trading partner -- something which was unimaginable before. Mainland China is now the number one trading partner of countries on its periphery, including Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and other member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. So this situation is a worldwide trend, and not limited just to Taiwan.
Moreover, there is a mutual interdependency between Taiwan and the mainland. Taiwan receives orders from abroad, fills them through its manufacturing operations in mainland China and then ships to markets in North America and Europe -- this sort of triangular relationship has been in existence for several decades. Because Taiwanese manufacturers (in mainland China) import a high volume of Taiwan-made semi-finished components, process them on the mainland and then sell the finished goods to North America or Western Europe, they need our cooperation, too. So it's a two-way, rather than one-way dependence.
SPIEGEL: But the economy of mainland China is far bigger than that of Taiwan.
Ma: At the same time, we're working to diversify our markets and not take mainland China as our only market. For example, at the time when this administration came into office, exports to the mainland amounted to about 40 percent of total exports. Yet, even after implementation of numerous liberalization measures, our exports to the mainland accounted for less than 42 percent of the total. So the proportion of mainland-bound exports has not suddenly surged on its own. Our approach is to diversify markets and not put all of our eggs in one basket, but we can't fail to put at least some eggs in the world's largest basket.
SPIEGEL: In order to protect your situation and your policies, your military plays a big role. But it's already doubtful whether you can protect yourself against the mainland. Beijing has directed about 1,500 missiles towards Taiwan. And, according to official figures, they are increasing their military budget by 12.7 percent this year. How does this aggressive military expansion by the mainland fit together with the friendly cross-straits relations?
Ma: Mainland China's defense budget has seen double-digit increases over the past many years. However, Taiwan cannot engage in an arms race with the mainland. Nevertheless, we are confident that we can safeguard Taiwan, because our approach is not limited to military power, but extends to trade, investment and exchanges that would help mainland Chinese leaders and people understand that Taiwan's existence is in fact highly beneficial to both sides.
- Part 1: 'Sooner or Later, Beijing Will Move Toward Democracy'
- Part 2: 'Mainland China Must Play the Role of a Responsible Stakeholder'