Any political union, he said, would require Beijing to adopt democracy and respect for human rights, under special scrutiny following the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed China democracy campaigner Liu Xiaobo. Because of such concerns, Ma did not cite any timetable for the process, saying it would be a "long historical" transition.
AP: I wanted to circle back to something you said earlier. I think what I heard you say was that a truly democratic system of government in the mainland is the only way that the Taiwanese people will engage in a conversation about unification.
President Ma: I think that will help, that will help. In other words, but there’s no guarantee how long it would take for the people of Taiwan to believe it’s time to do so. And opinion polls show that the majority of the people support maintaining the status quo. And obviously this trend has been maintained for over at least 20 years. And given the high approval rate of the status quo I think we’ll continue. So far, the mainland, aside from the economic side, the political reforms on the democratic side have made little progress.
In between the poles of union and separation, Ma said his government is prepared to discuss political agreements, including security issues, as soon as the priority economic issues are dealt with. He suggested that those political talks could start as early as a second four-year term if he wins re-election in 2012.
AP: Would the policy that you’re spelling out carry through a second term, were you to be reelected? Is just this period that you’re talking about—of economic outreach, travel back and forth but not political dialogue—does that carry through a second administration, or is that a commitment that you made for the first administration?
President Ma: Well, it depends on how fast we move with our relations with the mainland. For instance, now, we are almost two-and-a-half years into my presidency and we have achieved 14 agreements with the mainland. But we haven’t finished the important ones, for instance, an investment guarantee agreement, a dispute settlement agreement. And for our trade, in terms of tariff concessions and non-tariff barriers, we have only reached the first phase on the negotiations—that is what we call the “early harvest.” So the two sides will return to the negotiating table next year to discuss the rest of the trade and other relationships. So we still have our hands full with all these economic issues because, you see, the two sides have a trade volume of overUS$100 billion and we haven’t got any mechanism for dispute settlement and for a number of things that will exist between two normal economic entities. That is exactly what we want to do. We are not intentionally delaying the talks of political issues, but certainly, the economic ones are more important to people here, and people also support the idea of economy first, politics later.
AP: So, do I understand you correctly that, if economic issues are resolved during your second term, during that term, you might move on to political questions?
President Ma: As I said, it depends on how fast we move, whether these issues are satisfactorily resolved, and of course all the policies regarding the mainland are very sensitive, and we certainly will also make decisions on generally whether the decision receives popular support. So usually when we lay out our general policy, we will say that: first of all, it has to be something needed by the country; secondly, it has to be supported by the people; and thirdly, that it will be supervised by the national parliament to make surethat this is a policy basically meeting the needs of the people.
AP: In that progression from economic issues to political issues, what about the security issues and perhaps moving towards confidence-building measures between the militaries, where does that fall in this process?
President Ma: The CBM issue is generally considered in the broad sense of political issues. And certainly as I said, that will come after all the major economic issues are resolved. But we’re not in a hurry because the two sides, as a result of the efforts we’ve made, greatly reduced tension across the Taiwan Strait. When we talk about CBM—confidence building measures—when we signed, when we negotiated and signed the ECFA, that was a very important CBM. And the process lasted for over a year, and during the process, the officials involved from the two sides also built mutual trust in some regard. And this is exactly what we would like to see. So they can just pick up a phone and call each other.
For instance, when we reached the agreement to have judicial assistance, mutual assistance in judicial affairs, the police from the two sides met and jointly broke several rings of crime on fraud, and we have so far apprehended 1,200 criminals in this regard, and greatly reduced that crime, the fraud—even people told me that they used to receive many calls—which will affect fraud, but the number was greatly reduced. And so the cross-strait rapprochement did bring many benefits, not just economic, but also for our personal safety and all other things.