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Taipei mayor shares views on cross-strait ties in U.S.

2019/03/21 16:55:03

Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲)

Washington, March 20 (CNA) Visiting Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) gave a speech at the Heritage Foundation Wednesday in which he shared his views on how Taiwan should deal with its relations with China.

Stressing that Taiwan must deal with China wisely at a time when cross-Taiwan Strait communication has been stalled, Ko said that "for cross-strait relations, my idea is to deal with the small countries, you should be kind. To deal with the big countries, you should be wise."

However, the biggest problem between Taiwan and China now is the lack of mutual trust between the two sides, Ko contended.

The opposition Kuomintang (KMT) has insisted on dealing with China based on the so-called "1992 consensus," which it defines as both sides recognizing there is only one China but having the freedom to interpret what "one China" means, he said.

But China only focuses on the former part of the consensus, totally disregarding the second part regarding free interpretation of the meaning of the term, he noted.

Although President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has reiterated that she will do her best to maintain the cross-strait status quo, China, however, has a different idea on its mind, he said.

"The truth is that no matter how hard the KMT or the DPP tries to approach China, there is no way to engage in dialogue with it," he said.

The most adequate "national strategy" for Taiwan should be "clinging to the United States and Japan, while being friendly toward China," he opined.

Citing Israel as example, Ko said that Taiwan must be "wise and strong."

"We must face the problems honestly. If we can put the wellbeing of the people as the priority, I believe this will become much simpler," he said.

"However, for Taiwan to survive, we must place importance on economic development and defense. Only with good economic growth can Taiwanese people have better lives. Only with good economic growth can we afford defense. So, economy and defense are the two things Taiwan needs to survive in the future." he said.

Ko's rhetoric about cross-strait ties and Taiwan's future, however, raised questions from several of his audience members.

Michael Fonte, director of the DPP's mission in the U.S., said he doubts that Ko will do the same as Israel by investing heavily in national defense and maintaining a reserve force.

He said that what Ko described in terms of cross-strait relations was nice, but questioned "where's the beef?" -- an idiom that means "where are your facts?" with regard to specific policies.

"He made it sound like we just talk and it will make the problem go away," Fonte said. "Is it really true that you don't know what the China position is?"

Is it that communicating with them would really bring things forward and that just by talking to them will smooth out the relationship, he asked, adding that "I find it a little bit hard to believe, personally."

Walter Lohman, director of the Heritage Foundation's Asian Studies Center, said he has a "very good impression" of Ko following his speech.

"My takeaway is that he understands the complexities in the relationship with China, with the U.S., that he can be practical about them and at the same time hold to Taiwan's values as a democracy," Lohman said.

Asked by CNA reporters whether he thinks Ko's "being friendly to China" policy will work, he said: "You have to acknowledge that Taiwan is next to China and you can't move Taiwan to another neighborhood ... but it doesn't mean that you need to be a part of China and it doesn't mean you have to do what China says," he said.

"But it means that you do have to have some kind of functional relations that ebb and flow over time ... it is just acknowledging reality."

Taiwan has to deal with China somehow, he emphasized.

"I don't find anything objectionable in stating that reality," he said.

But "how you deal with it or what kind of comprise you make is another question," he added.

Asked whether he thinks that China would be willing to talk to Ko under the principle of the "1992 consensus" and his "two sides of the Taiwan Strait are one family" theory, Lohman answered: "I don't know" and "we have to see."

He said he does not know whether the "one family" idea is Ko's framework for dealing with China and that it may be premature for Ko to declare his cross-strait policy, but it is "interesting" that he pointed out the efficiency of the "1992 consensus."

"From my point of view, he seems to have a reasonable perspective and he is someone who, if he were to take higher office, it seems that China will deal with him wisely."

The Taipei mayor has been rebuked by many staunch pro-Taiwan independence supporters for his seemingly conciliatory attitude toward China based on his view that "the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are one family."

Although Ko has not officially announced his presidential bid, he is viewed as one of the favorites for Taiwan's next president in 2020, according to the results of multiple polls.

(By Flor Wang, Rita Cheng and Liang Pei-chi)