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Way Forward for China, Taiwan Remains Unclear

Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping hold historic face-to-face talks in Singapore, Nov. 7, 2015. It is the first such meeting between leaders of the two countries in more than 60 years.
Way Forward for China Taiwan Remains Unclear
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Leaders from Taiwan and China met Saturday for the first time since the end of the civil war in China, more than 65 years ago.

The meeting was an effort to create goodwill between the two sides. In the past seven years, ties between the sides have increased. However, some Taiwanese say those ties have not resulted in economic gains or greater security.

China claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan when it formed the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Relations were icy until 2008. The two sides agreed to link the two economies.

Today in Taiwan, people are unclear about the benefits of the relationship. The island’s economy shrank in the third quarter of this year.

Many Taiwanese wanted progress from the meeting. Liu Yi-jiun is a public affairs professor at Fo Guang University in Taiwan. He said there were high expectations because these two leaders had never met. He said, after two years of planning, political and economic concessions were promised but none were seen.

Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou told his Chinese president Xi Jinping that he was worried about China’s missiles deployed across the Taiwan Strait.

Protesters rally against the meeting of Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou and China counterpart Xi Jinping in Taipei, Taiwan, Nov. 7, 2015.
Protesters rally against the meeting of Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou and China counterpart Xi Jinping in Taipei, Taiwan, Nov. 7, 2015.

He also said people in Taiwan were frustrated that China was blocking Taiwan’s foreign relations. China has 170 allies compared with 22 for Taiwan. This difference lets China keep Taiwan from developing its diplomacy further.

In response to Taiwan’s concerns about missiles, Xi Jinping said Saturday China’s missiles were not aimed at Taiwan.

However, economic concerns remain. Taiwan has signed free-trade agreements with Singapore and New Zealand. Both countries have relations with the two sides. But China has blocked Taiwan from joining the United Nations or other international organizations.

Taiwanese officials say deals with China have created 9,600 jobs among a population of 23 million. Agreements that opened tourism brought a total 2.8 million mainland Chinese to the island last year. That is up from almost no tourism in 2007.

Trade deals also have helped increase total imports and exports to $130 billion last year.

China remains Taiwan’s largest trading partner. And it is the top receiver of Taiwanese foreign investment.

Some people complain the benefits of 23 deals with mainland China covering trade and other areas are reaching mainly the owners of big companies.

In Taiwan’s capital markets, investment from China amounts to only a fraction of the island government’s quota, or the amount permitted.

Tseng Ming-chung is Chairman of the Financial Supervisory Commission in Taiwan. He said Friday that the Taiwanese government has approved almost every application for investment from China.

He says the amount of money is extremely small. He adds that the Taiwanese government is not refusing applications. Tseng says mainland Chinese institutions cannot freely set up qualified domestic institutional investors.

China insists on eventual unification with Taiwan. However, public opinion polls show most Taiwanese oppose that goal.

Nathan Liu says the future of relations between the sides is unclear.

“…They think that at least by the end of Ma’s term the two sides should at least reach some kind of agreement,” he said. He noted that, an understanding that the sides are going toward common goals is needed, although it may not be a signed agreement. “This is not complete yet,” he said.

President Ma Ying-jeou has supported closer ties with mainland China. But he and his KMT party have lost support. He must step down next year because of term limits.

A backlash against economic deals with China started mass street protests in March 2014. That anger has given the island’s top opposition party candidate a lead in opinion polls ahead of the January presidential election. Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party has been highly critical of President Ma’s dealings with China.

Experts say the Saturday leadership summit appears not to have done enough to change voter opinion.

I’m Mario Ritter.

Ralph Jennings reported this story from Taipei. Mario Ritter adapted it for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

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Words in This Story

goodwill – n. good feelings, added value

sovereignty – n. unlimited power over a country

frustrated – adj. trying to do or gain something but not being successful; upset because of being unable to complete something

fraction – n. a divided number, only a small amount

quota – n. a limit on how much of something can be bought, invested, used, etc.

backlash – n. a reaction against something such as a proposal, policy or new idea