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President Ma's Policies Prevailing in Taiwan Despite Fears Over China Ties


Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou marks his first year in office Wednesday. Many Taiwanese worry their president's efforts to strengthen economic ties with China may endanger the island's sovereignty. But larger concerns about Taiwan's economy, and opposition party weakness are keeping his agenda on track.

Tens of thousands of protestors marched through the streets of the Taiwan capitol recently to protest the policies of President Ma Ying-jeou. They fear that Mr. Ma is moving too quickly in lowering economic barriers with mainland China. Chen Jiang-jang came from the city of Taichung to participate.

Chen says they want to protect Taiwan's sovereignty. He says Mr. Ma's policies are too close to China, and he compromises everything to China. Chen says he can not accept this.

China claims Taiwan as its territory, although the island has been self-ruled since Nationalist forces fled there in 1949 after losing a civil war to the Communists. Beijing says it will take the island, by force if necessary, should its leaders ever move to declare formal independence.

Since taking office last May, Mr. Ma has swept aside his predecessors anti-China policies in favor of closer ties. Last year, he established direct cross-strait shipping links and charter flights. In April, the two sides took a step further by signing agreements on cross-strait banking and crime fighting.

Public opinion is split. A recent government poll gave Mr. Ma a 55 percent approval rating, but a poll by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP, shows him with 44 percent approval.

Despite fears that closer economic integration may lead to a gradual loss of sovereignty, the recent protests are unlikely to change Mr. Ma's policies. For one thing, opposition legislators lack the votes to block him.

And the DPP, which also supports greater economic integration with China, has been unable to clarify how it would do things differently. Last week, DPP chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen said it was impossible at this point for her party to make a fixed plan for changing the relationship with China.

"You don't give yourself a timetable for yourself for the cross-strait agenda because you're creating pressure for yourself and giving leverage to the other side," said Tsai.

Mr. Ma has said repeatedly that his efforts to improve relations with Beijing have not compromised Taiwan's sovereignty. And, he told journalists Tuesday that one success from his policies was the World Health Organization's decision to grant the island observer status at its annual assembly this month. In the past, Beijing has always blocked Taipei's efforts to attend the assembly.

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