Taiwan bets on trade pact to avert China invasion

By Manish Chand,IANS,

Taipei : Building upon two years of warming ties, Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jieou Wednesday said the landmark economic pact that his country plans to sign with China next month will help avert a potential Chinese invasion.

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Marking two years of his tenure in power that has seen diplomatic truce with mainland China, Ma said the easing of tensions across the 100-mile wide Taiwan Strait could compel Beijing to dismantle over 1,000 missiles it has pointed at the self-ruled island.

Saying building peace with China to protect Taiwan was a cornerstone of his policy, Ma stressed that the economic framework cooperation agreement (ECFA) both sides have been negotiating for months will be signed in June.

“The scheduled signature of ECFA has not been delayed. We are definitely on schedule and will announce the results after it is signed,” Ma told journalists at the presidential office in Taipei, ending months of speculation.

“As we try to reduce tensions and improve relations, the closer ties between the two sides will foster peace and prosperity.

“This does not accord with the mainland having more than 1,000 missiles pointing at us. The mainlanders could feel this way, and our allies, including the US and Japan, could feel this way too.”

“The threat of war will be reduced. Both sides will have to pay a higher price. In case of an invasion, China will have to pay a higher price,” he said while ruling out both independence and reunification with China.

Since the China-friendly Ma, also chair of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), came to power in May last year, bilateral trade has soared to $130 billion, making China Taiwan’s largest trading partner. Direct flights have more than doubled from 108 to 270 per week and 3,000 Chinese tourists are visiting Taiwan every day.

Denying any arms race with Beijing, Ma, however, stressed that while the ongoing rapprochement with China will continue, Taiwan will not lower its guard and go ahead with the plan to buy 16 F16 fighter jets from the US to replace its ageing F5 fleet.

China still claims the island, after it split amid a civil war in 1949, as part of its own territory.

Ma indicated that the ECFA, which aims at reducing tariff barriers and protecting intellectual property rights, could act as a precursor to signing free trade area (FTA) agreements with the US, European Union, Japan and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Ma said he will elevate the level of FTA negotiations and will himself head this high-profile team.

Ma added that the political and security dialogue with China will, however, have to await greater and sustained stability in cross-strait relations. “There is no timetable for negotiating a peace accord,” he said.