Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou urged China yesterday to scrap the growing number of missiles aimed at the self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its own, a potential stumbling block to trade ties worth $130 billion (R952 billion).
Taiwan planned to buy more weapons from the United States to protect itself, although it did not want an arms race with China, Ma said, as the military balance tips in the mainland’s favour.
“(There are) more than 1000 (missiles) and they haven’t changed that. The number continues to go up. That is certainly a great concern for the people here,” Ma told Reuters in an interview at the presidential office.
“If we are to negotiate a peace agreement with the mainland, certainly we expect them to do something about those missiles, either to remove them or dismantle them,” said Ma, who has eased tensions with China since taking office in May 2008.
Even as China’s military clout grows, Taiwan will still want to hold its own fort by ensuring it has adequate arms and hopes to buy more fighter jets, attack helicopters and submarines from the United States, US and Taiwan officials said.
Ma, 59, who became chairman of the ruling Nationalist Party or Kuomintang (KMT) at the weekend, said he would not rule out meeting Chinese leaders such as his counterpart Hu Jintao.
“I won’t exclude that possibility, but there’s no timetable for that yet,” Ma said, when asked if he would meet Hu. “At the moment, we have our hands full with economic issues.”
Meeting Chinese leaders
Analysts said the most appropriate time could be in 2012 or 2013, if Ma gets re-elected to a second four-year term and Hu is expected to step down.
“There is a lot of uncertainty as to when leaders on both sides can meet. I would say the best time is in 2012 if Ma gets re-elected,” said Lin Cheng-yi, research fellow at the Academia Sinica’s Institute of European and American Studies.
“It looks like cross-strait relations are the most important among all of Ma policies. The policy that affects Taiwan most is ties with China, and not domestic politics nor international diplomacy,” Lin said.
Communist China has claimed Taiwan since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 and has vowed to bring the island under mainland rule, by force if necessary.
Despite political differences, commercial ties have flourished. China is Taiwan’s largest trading partner with two-way trade worth more than $130 billion (R952 billion), while Taiwanese businesses have poured over $100 billion (R732 billion) into the mainland.
Taiwan’s economy, which was in recession earlier this year, has begun depending so much on China that some Taiwanese politicians and analysts worry the mainland could take over the island by economic means.
Ma said the island needed to diversify its exports to stay competitive and forecast 4 % economic growth next year. He also said the island expected to sign a deal similar to a free trade agreement with China next year that would cut tariffs.
The president hopes more of the exports that go to China will be sold to the Chinese domestic market, instead of being re-exported to advanced economies such as the United States and Europe that have been harder hit by the steep global downturn.
“It’s not possible for us to change the economy based on exports, but we could diversify the export market, not focusing entirely on the United States or Europe,” Ma said.
“Actually the largest export destination is mainland China, but many of the goods with mainland China are reprocessed to be re-exported to the US and Europe, so we will modify that policy so that mainland China is no longer treated only as a factory, but rather, as a market.”
Pic: Chinese short range missile