DPP's Lai aims for average annual GDP growth of 3.5% if elected
Taipei, Nov. 30 (CNA) Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential front-runner Lai Ching-te (賴清德) told hundreds of Taiwanese business representatives on Thursday that his government would strive to grow Taiwan's economy by "an average of no lower than 3.5 percent."
"If I become president, the [country's] average economic growth rate would not fall below 3.5 percent," said Lai, who is also vice president, at a forum in Taipei co-hosted by nine major business associations.
During the tenure of former President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) from the Kuomintang (KMT) from May 2008 to May 2016, Taiwan's economy grew by an average 3 percent, Lai said.
Over the past seven years since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) took office in May 2016, Taiwan's gross domestic product (GDP) has grown at an average 3.4 percent, he said.
However, Lai did not explain how he reached the 3.5 percent figure, other than to note "more opportunities for democratic Taiwan" in the midst of volatile geopolitical changes.
"We should aim at [an average] minimum 3.5 percent [of GDP growth]," he said, adding that "growing by 4 percent, of course, would be even better."
The Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS) under the Cabinet recently trimmed its forecast for Taiwan's GDP growth in 2023 to 1.42 percent, citing a severe contraction in exports and sluggish private investment.
Thursday's event was part of a series of forums where Lai and his two opponents - Hou Yu-ih (侯友宜) of the KMT and Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) from the Taiwan People's Party - have presented their visions for growing the country's economy.
Lai also took the opportunity to address concerns raised by attendees over the current business environment in Taiwan, in particular cross-Taiwan Strait tensions and labor shortages.
Lai, who has in recent years softened his hard line on China and endorsed Tsai's relatively moderate cross-strait policy, pledged to do his utmost to maintain stability across the Taiwan Strait.
The DPP and I will "fight for peace," Lai said, in an attempt to refute suggestion made by the other presidential candidates, who have criticized the ruling party and its candidate for pushing Taiwan to the blink of war.
"One does not reach the pinnacle of success by achieving one hundred victories out of one hundred battles, but by forcing enemies into submission without engaging in one battle," Lai said, citing the Chinese classic, "The Art of War (孫子兵法)" by Sun Tau (孫子).
He went on to say that in order to prevent war, Taiwan must continue to enhance its defense capabilities and boost deterrence.
At the same time, he reiterated that his administration would remain open to dialogue with Beijing providing both sides treat each other as equals and with respect.
In response to a question on whether his government would work to resume cross-strait exchanges, Lai said both sides of the Taiwan Strait should "substitute dialogue for opposition," a catchphrase used most often by opposition leaders.
Drawing on his first and only visit to China in 2014 in his capacity as Tainan mayor, Lai said he would have preferred more exchanges between Taiwan and China if Beijing had not set political preconditions for engagements with Taipei.
Accepting the "1992 consensus" will not guarantee peace in Taiwan, nor will agreeing to a contentious cross-strait service trade pact or allowing Chinese students to work in Taiwan, Lai noted.
Bringing Taiwan under its control, by force if necessary, has been Beijing's political goal long before the DPP was established in 1986, Lai said, arguing China's ambition was not driven by his party.
He went on to say that Taiwan needs "stable and principled" leaders to handle cross-strait relations, adding that "giving in entirely to the Chinese Communist Party's positions will not bring Taiwan everlasting peace and security."
The "1992 consensus," which is publicly endorsed by the KMT's Hou, expresses the idea that there is only "one China." The KMT has maintained that both sides of the Taiwan Strait can have its own interpretation as to what "China" means, although Beijing has never formally endorsed that position.
In the meantime, Hou has also said he would resume negotiations with Beijing on the cross-strait service trade agreement, and allow Chinese students to study and work in Taiwan, if elected president.
Plans to push through the trade agreement, which would have promoted greater economic integration of Taiwan with China, were shelved by the then-KMT government in 2014 following massive protests in Taipei later dubbed the "Sunflower Movement."
At Thursday's forum, several business representatives also called on Lai to expand government programs to bring in more migrant workers, arguing that it would address the current labor shortage facing the service sector.
Lai did not commit to do so, saying instead that the issue can only be resolved by addressing the concerns of different stakeholders.
He mentioned, in particular, that labor rights groups have attributed labor shortage to companies' unwillingness to provide competitive salaries.
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