The leader of Taiwan's opposition Nationalist, or KMT, party says his top priority, if elected president in the 2008 election, will be to negotiate an accord with China to formally end the state of hostilities across the Taiwan Strait. He spoke at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington during a week-long U.S. tour.
Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou, who also heads the main opposition KMT party, is widely expected to be a strong candidate for the island's presidency in 2008. He says his party will be much more conciliatory toward China than the current president, Chen Shui-bian, and, as a top priority, will seek to resume negotiations with Beijing, which were halted more than a decade ago.
"Secondly, we will try to reach some kind of peace accord that will formally terminate the state of hostilities across the Taiwan Strait. The peace accord could have a period of 30 years, 40 years, 50 years -- primarily to let the two sides try to get along with each other in peace," he said.
China and Taiwan took separate paths in 1949, after the Chinese nationalists lost a civil war to the communists and fled to the island. Beijing still considers Taiwan part of Chinese territory and has vowed to use force, if necessary, to prevent it from declaring independence.
The United States has promised to help Taiwan defend itself against attack by mainland China.
The Chinese government sees President Chen as being pro-Taiwan-independence. These fears were heightened last month, when the Taiwanese leader scrapped the island's National Unification Council, the formal body that oversees eventual reunification with China.
KMT leader Ma said President Chen's move makes it difficult for his party and its legislative coalition partner, People's First Party, or P.F.P., to immediately approve a multi-billion dollar arms deal purchase from the United States. "The KMT caucus, the P.F.P. caucus, in the Legislative Yuan (parliament), believe that if they pass it now, people will get the wrong message. They thought that we support the president to scrap the National Unification Council. That is why I say, let's wait for a while," he said.
Experts say China has more than 700 missiles aimed at Taiwan. The U.S. arms package, which was proposed in 2001, includes submarines, missiles and anti-submarine aircraft.
Meanwhile, Mayor Ma pointed out that political disputes between Taipei and Beijing have not prevented cross-Strait economic ties from flourishing. "Last year, the trade, bilateral trade across the Taiwan Strait reached $71 billion, with Taiwan having a trade surplus of 49.7 billion (dollars). Actually, Taiwan's total trade surplus last year was only about $7 billion. That means had Taiwan not traded with the Chinese mainland, Taiwan would have a trade deficit of $42 billion."
Ma's U.S. trip also includes New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.