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Full text of President Ma Ying-jeou's New Year's Day address

2015/01/01 10:42:12

Taipei, Jan. 1 (CNA) The ruling party and the opposition of Taiwan should reconcile and work together, President Ma Ying-jeou said Thursday, warning that the country cannot afford the price of disunity.

In his New Year address titled "Reconciliation, Cooperation, and Peace", the president also said that peace across the Taiwan Strait will remain the goal of his administration.

The following is the full English text of Ma's 2015 New Year's Day address as released by the Presidential Office:

Vice President Wu, Presidents of the Five Yuan, Presidential Advisors, Senior Officials, Honored Guests, Fellow Countrymen, and Overseas Compatriots: Happy New Year!

On this, the first day of the 104th year of the Republic of China, I wish our people health, peace, and happiness in the coming year.

Over the past year, our society has experienced a bit of turmoil. However, discontent and antagonism notwithstanding, people have expressed their views through the ballot. Taiwan has, over time, become a mature democracy, and so we saw calm return soon after the elections.

Following the food safety crises of last year, we acknowledged our failures, and learned from our mistakes. Tapping into every resource at our disposal as the nation's government, we carried out thorough investigations and imposed severe punishments. We also amended the law to significantly increase penalties. Furthermore, the public and private sectors have jointly established a three-tier quality control system to ensure food safety. I am confident that as long as we remain firm in our commitment to punish shady practices and completely eliminate tainted food, our food industry will certainly be able to transform itself and rebuild Taiwan's reputation as a land of culinary delights.

As the new year unfolds, the government must bear in mind the lessons it has learned. Temporary calm does not mean that issues have been resolved, but rather that people are anticipating reform. If we who are responsible for governing the country fail to critically assess our performance and find ways to dispel dissatisfaction and antagonism, society will not remain peaceable for long.

Therefore, as we ring in this new year, I wish to address the direction of our future efforts in three spheres: social reconciliation; cooperation between the ruling and opposition camps; and peace across the Taiwan Strait.

I. Social reconciliation

The student movement of last March certainly had an effect on Taiwan. Outspoken youth and their online networking re-energized our society. Some people welcomed it, while others had reservations. But I think it was a good thing when seen from a long-term perspective. If our country has young people who are concerned about society, and a civil society that respects democratic rule of law, seeks rational dialogue, and opposes violence and autocracy, Taiwan will be filled with vigor and continue to grow stronger.

We must recognize that young people have lofty ideals and a strong sense of justice. They are particularly incensed by unfairness and misconduct. If the government does not explain itself clearly, or acts inappropriately, misunderstandings and criticism are likely to result.

Taiwan's economy steadily regained momentum over the past year. Exports continued strong, economic growth hit a three-year high, and the overall unemployment rate dropped to its lowest in seven years. The unemployment rate among young people fell considerably, but was still high. Wage growth posted a four-year high. Companies were quite profitable last year, and many are planning to raise wages this year. But many young people-even many who have found jobs-still cannot afford to buy a home and dare not have children. This generation faces tepid economic and wage growth, which stands in stark contrast to the experience of the preceding few generations. The anxieties of our young people remind us that we should listen more attentively to the people and do more to create opportunities for them. In addition, the government must respond to our young people's ideals and sense of justice.

As president, it is I who bears responsibility for addressing the issues we face. First, reconciliation should come from understanding. We can no longer understand the situation facing youth and the disadvantaged the same way we did in the past. We must look at the world through the eyes of our young people, and contemplate the future from the perspective of the disadvantaged. We must not overlook the fact that young people today are growing up in a time of rapid globalization and unprecedentedly fierce international competition, and a time when there is concern that effort may not lead to rewards.

I strongly hope that our government officials, when dealing with issues pertaining to youth, labor relations, the needs of the disadvantaged, and urban-rural disparities, will put themselves in others' shoes, empathize with their situations, try to understand their needs and aspirations, become familiar with their worlds, listen more attentively to their views, and reflect those views in government policies. We must take discontent as both a warning and a guiding hand. Without such an attitude, we would end up governing from a bubble, and people would feel as though we had done nothing on their behalf.

Needless to say, we cannot ignore the growing gap between rich and poor, either. On the one hand, income distribution in Taiwan has steadily improved over the past five years, and as a result we are doing better in this respect than other emerging Asian economies. But it is indisputable that the rich can accumulate wealth far more easily than can the average citizen. This has made many feel strongly that they are not getting their just due. To address this situation, the government must adopt more effective fiscal, economic, and social policies to bring about greater parity in the distribution of wealth.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), most of whose members are developed nations, has recently expressed concern over this increasing disparity. That the OECD would do so is an indication that this is a global problem. Reducing this gap will be a long and complicated task. All sectors of society must come together to inspire hope in our young people, and to care for the disadvantaged. For its part, the government must act as quickly as possible to take more effective action to reform tax policies and improve social services, so that people can actually feel the benefits of what we are doing.

Also, we must enhance communication and respond to people's concerns. In today's increasingly networked world, with its instant communications, the government cannot hold on to an outdated mindset. If the administration does not carry out a thorough critical review of its performance and make needed changes, it cannot keep pace with the thunderous civil discourse and intense public participation now made possible by the internet. In future government policymaking, we will welcome diverse opinions in a process marked by open access to information, transparent decision-making, and a more accessible interface. We will further promote open data to ensure true public participation in the process of governance, so that it is implemented in line with public opinion. I hope that the "open, transparent, and accessible" way of making policy and communicating that I've just described will soon generate results that are clear for all to see.

II. Cooperation between the ruling and opposition camps

Taiwan today faces a number of domestic and external challenges. For the sake of the greater public good, the ruling and opposition camps must drop their strife and seek to cooperate. We can see that a gulf separates the two sides, but they really ought to sit down together and work out their differences. My fellow countrymen, we cannot afford the luxury of disunity. Please direct any dissatisfactions toward me, and let me take whatever blame there may be.

The antagonism that has long plagued relations between the ruling and opposition camps has prevented effective cooperation. This has been my greatest regret since taking office. I am painfully aware that this situation can only be detrimental to the interests of the people, and is not what they want. Improving relations between the two sides may take time, but Taiwan faces too many pressing matters that must be dealt with over the next year and more. There is no more time to waste. Taiwan cannot afford to wait any longer.

My fellow countrymen, I am willing to support any manner of dialogue or cooperation that would help to ease political tensions. I would welcome a national affairs conference of any sort on any issue.

As for the local elections held in November, I sincerely congratulate all the winning candidates and urge government entities at the central and local levels to put aside differences and work together for the long-term benefit of the nation as a whole, and for local development. Harmony is beneficial to everyone. We must be united if we are to deal successfully with difficult international political and economic conditions.

In recent years, Taiwan has had to come to grips with the dual challenges of global economic and trade liberalization and regional economic integration. Nations have been working hard to sign bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements, but Taiwan has long been playing catch-up. My fellow countrymen, engagement brings prosperity, while isolation leads to atrophy. This is the principal driver of events in our time. This is not a slogan, but reality. Like it or not, we must rise to the challenge. If we do not act today, tomorrow we will find ourselves trailing behind. Sit idly by today, and tomorrow we will regret it.

At the same time, by means of communication between the ruling and opposition camps, we hope to eliminate deep-seated disagreements and help Taiwan remain competitive in a world that is constantly changing in both the political and economic spheres. My fellow countrymen, we have only one Taiwan. Let us work together and do everything we possibly can for our economic future!

III. Peace across the Taiwan Strait

Achieving reconciliation within our society is only part of the picture; in addition, cross-strait peace must be consolidated. As I see it, we seek but three goals in our conduct of cross-strait relations. The first is peace. The second is also peace. And the third, once again, is peace. The things we've achieved over the past six years stand as proof that seeking peace in this way is the right way to go.

In the future, we will continue to maintain the status quo of no unification, no independence, and no use of force under the framework of the ROC Constitution and on the basis of the 1992 Consensus, whereby each side acknowledges the existence of "one China" but maintains its own interpretation of what that means. Building upon that foundation, we operate in line with the principle of putting Taiwan first for the benefit of its people. With that aim in mind, we will continue forward with follow-up economic and trade talks and establish cross-strait representative offices in order to facilitate even more peaceful relations. At the same time, everyone in society ought to share in the peace dividend generated by cross-strait peace, especially the benefits that come from stronger economic and trade ties. In saying that, I am thinking especially of small and medium enterprises, which constitute the overwhelming majority of Taiwanese companies. I have no doubt that this is what the majority of our citizens want.

The past year has witnessed steady progress in cross-strait ties. The ministers in charge of cross-strait affairs from each side met three times-once each in Nanjing, Taipei, and Beijing-and referred to each other using their formal titles, the first time such a thing has occurred in the 65 years since the two sides came under separate rule. Moreover, our Mainland Affairs Council, and the Taiwan Affairs Office of the mainland's State Council, have established a mechanism for regular communications and liaison. These are the concrete results of the gradual institutionalization of cross-strait relations over the past six and a half years.

Cross-strait relations have been peaceful for the past few years. The number of direct flights has increased; trade and investment ties have grown; cultural and educational interaction is more frequent; and confrontations between us in international venues are less intense. And even more encouraging than all of that is the fact that young people from both sides are much more broadly and deeply engaged with each other all the time. Many young Taiwanese people were already pursuing studies in mainland China before I came to office, but in the past six-plus years we have also seen a big upswing in the number of mainland Chinese coming to study in Taiwan. Today, some 70 percent of local universities have enrolled students from the mainland. The freedom and openness on Taiwan's campuses and in the larger society provide the young people of both sides an ideal environment in which to gain a better understanding of and learn from one another. This is going to lay the foundations for peace among the next generation of ethnic Chinese.

My fellow countrymen, lasting peace across the Taiwan Strait is what people on both sides want. It is also what the international community hopes to see. And the most effective way to promote peace is to allow young people on both sides, while they still in their formative early years, to begin having contact, because this will reduce misunderstandings and establish friendship. Indeed, this is an approach that I've advocated for many years, and one that we will continue to take.

Absolutely no more spinning of wheels

The world is changing drastically and it won't stop for Taiwan. My fellow countrymen, I will continue to resolutely fulfill my responsibility as president to safeguard the sovereignty of the Republic of China, strengthen our nation, look after the disadvantaged, and make sure the country doesn't spin its wheels. I sincerely hope that 2015 will be a year of reconciliation within society, cooperation between the ruling and opposition camps, and peace across the Taiwan Strait.

In closing, may the Republic of China enjoy lasting prosperity! May our people live and work in peace and contentment!

Thank you!

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