New talks aim at improving Taiwan livelihood

08:30, December 22, 2009      

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Beijing's chief negotiator for Taiwan affairs arrived in Taiwan Monday for a new round of high-level talks, saying he respected people's right to protest his visit.

Scholars of the Taiwan issue said demonstrations, which are mainly organized by the pro-independence opposition party in Taiwan, won't disrupt envoy Chen Yunlin's schedule or the growth of cross-Straits relations.

After waving to hundreds of demonstrators outside the hotel where he was staying at in Taichung city, Chen spoke about his five-day visit.

"I saw many compatriots who oppose my visit and others who welcome me here to engage in talks for a mutual win-win. I definitely respect the expression of different opinions," Chen said.

A meeting between Chen, president of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS), and Chiang Pin-kung, chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), is scheduled for Tuesday in the central Taiwanese city.

This will be the fourth round of talks since ARATS and SEF, authorized by authorities on the mainland and in Taiwan to handle cross-Straits issues, resumed negotiations in June of last year after a 10-year suspension.

A day before Chen's arrival, the pro-independence opposition Democratic Progressive Party, organized a rally in Taichung to protest Chen's visit. The police said the crowd comprised 20,000 to 30,000 people, but the DPP said it was 100,000-strong.

Taiwan's China Times reported Friday that a telephone poll showed that 53 percent of local residents among up to 700 interviewees oppose the DPP's demonstration scheme. Taiwan's Central Daily said more than 1,000 supporters for cross-Straits talks were also outside the hotel Monday.

Xu Shiquan, a researcher of cross-Straits affairs at the Tsinghua University, said that the DPP tries to sway public opinion in its favor by politically attacking the mainland.

"People's livelihood should be at the top of Taiwan's agenda, but it has been dragged into a huge divide and blocked from achieving faster economic development," Xu said.

Mainland authorities have endeavored to improve the cross-Straits relations by offering preferential policies to the Taiwan people, Xu said, adding that opposition protests are unable to derail the trade communication process.

A poll by Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council shows that 70 percent of those polled were in favor of the "economy in priority" policy in negotiations, and more than 60 percent were satisfied with the results of the last three talks, the Beijing-based Global Times reported.

After a working-level meeting Monday afternoon, Zheng Lizhong, standing vice president of ARATS, revealed that Chen was set today to sign three commercial accords on labor cooperation in the fishing industry, agricultural cooperation in inspection and quarantine, and inspection and accreditation cooperation in standards and metrology, adding to the nine pre-existing ones.

Another expected accord on the avoidance of double taxation is still under discussion and won't be on the table Tuesday, Zheng said.

Zhou Jixiang, a professor at Taiwan University, noted that the fourth set of talks, focusing on specific and operational topics, is significant, not for its political impact or implications, but for the nature of this specific and business-like consultation.

"It would become a new starting point for cross-Straits consultation and negotiation, which embeds the principle of "placing economic and pressing topics first," Zhou was quoted by SEF's magazine, Exchange, as saying.

Mainland Taiwan affairs chief Wang Yi said Monday that the two negotiators would also exchange opinions on future talks on the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), which will be based on the principle of equality and mutual benefit.

Li Yihu, an expert on Taiwan at Peking University, said the proposed ECFA would serve as a pathway for Taiwan to join the integration process of Asian economies and keep the island from being marginalized.

The ASEAN-China Free Trade Area, scheduled to launch January 1, will be the biggest free-trade zone in the world, boasting a market with a population of 1.9 billion and a combined GDP of about US$6 trillion, official statistics say.

"The ACFTA will entitle 90 percent of products traded between ASEAN and China to zero tariffs and other favorable policies," Li said. "The opposition to the ECFA is a political interpretation of the issue by the DPP."

Statistics from the Ministry of Commerce show that the total amount of cross-Straits trade hit nearly US$130 billion last year, with a US$77.6 billion surplus from Taiwan to the mainland.

Lin Bo, a researcher at the Institute of Taiwan Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that future preferential policies launched by the mainland will further cater to Taiwanese people to make sure they are the direct beneficiaries of the policies.

Source: Global Times
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