Speaking on why Taiwan needs to engage with mainland China, the president commented that the two sides have been divided for 60 years, and it was not until 1987 that the government began allowing people from Taiwan to return to mainland China to visit their relatives, but in actual fact, even before 1987, the government was never able to completely prevent people returning to visit relatives, go sightseeing, or invest. Consequently, the government decided to establish regular avenues for normalized interaction, he said.
President Ma stated that a number of issues arose after liberalization measures were adopted, including tensions and sudden turnabouts in the process of establishing contacts, carrying out negotiations, and conducting relations. At the same time, however, interaction between the private sectors continued to grow. From 2000 to 2008, he said, investments from Taiwan in mainland China grew by a factor of 3.8, while trade value increased 2.8 times. Mainland China has been Taiwan's top trading partner since 2003, and has gradually opened itself to the world, growing from the world's fourth largest economy to the third largest, and then recently the second largest economy, continually adding to its political and economic power. President Ma stated that while mainland China poses risks to Taiwan, it also offers opportunities. Over the past three years, the two sides of the Taiwan Strait have resumed negotiations and signed 15 agreements covering direct cross-strait flights, the opening of Taiwan's doors to mainland Chinese tourists, food safety, product inspection, financial supervisory cooperation, mutual judicial assistance, joint combating of crime, and cooperation in medicine and pharmaceuticals. These agreements have proven crucial in gradually normalizing cross-strait relations, he said.
President Ma stressed that in the process of increasing cross-strait contacts, we must also face the complex state of affairs between the two sides. He said that our basic principle is that of the so-called "New Three Nos," which refers to maintaining the status quo in the Taiwan Strait by observing the principle of "no unification, no independence, and no use of force" under the framework of the ROC Constitution. In addition, cross-strait relations are being pursued under the "1992 Consensus" and the principle of "one China, respective interpretations." Also, all negotiations are held under the principle of "equality, dignity, and reciprocity," and of "putting Taiwan first for the benefit of the people," he remarked.
After his speech, four students, some of whom were from National Taiwan University and National Chengchi University, asked President Ma questions related to long-term planning of cross-strait policy, the role played by Taiwan in the process of mainland China's democratization, the recent issue involving the name used for Taiwan in the World Health Assembly (WHA), and the advantages and disadvantages of allowing mainland Chinese students to come to Taiwan to study.
In responding to these questions, the president remarked that the international community has welcomed the recent stable development of relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. He said that our embrace of the "no unification, no independence, and no use of force" stance in maintaining the status quo and actively promoting stronger ties across the Taiwan Strait is aimed at helping the two sides, which share a common cultural background, to find the best means to resolve problems.
At the same time, the president explained the positive impact of Taiwan's democratic system on mainland China. He stated that freedom and democracy are naturally exhibited in the ordinary lives of people here, and this has an enormous influence on the people of mainland China. However, he remarked that realizing democratic values takes some time and that mainland China still needs time in this respect before large-scale structural change might take place.
In response to the question pertaining to the World Health Organization (WHO) requesting that the ROC be referred to internally as “Taiwan, Province of China,” and the belittling of the ROC in this regard, the president stressed that this is something that we cannot accept or recognize, and we are standing upon our rights in the matter. The president explained that the ROC sought to join the WHO back in 1997 and it was not until 2009 that we were able to return to the WHA. Even though the ROC has faced all sorts of difficulties and challenges in participating in international activities, we have gradually overcome these roadblocks. For instance, he said, instead of being referred to as Taiwan, China, we are now referred to as Chinese Taipei. In addition, our government officials can attend WHA events as an observer, whereas in the past we could only send an expert. Meanwhile, previously we were only able to send an official at the level of director general to these events, but now we can send a minister-level official, he said. Furthermore, we are able to attend the Assembly rather than just technical conferences. In terms of contact, we are now directly in contact with the WHO and do not need to go through mainland China to contact the agency. This is extremely important, the president said, as during the SARS outbreak, for example, we were unable to obtain any information, but during the recent outbreak of the H1N1 strain of influenza we were able to obtain a strain of the virus so that we could develop a vaccine. Even more importantly, he said, US Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius recently held a press conference and publicly stated that United Nations organizations cannot unilaterally decide Taiwan's status. Taiwan's achievements in participating in the international community have not come easy, and he hopes both the ruling and opposition parties will recognize the value of what has been accomplished. Everyone must continue to work together to seek dignity and participation for Taiwan in the international community, he said.
During the period in which the students could freely speak with the president, they discussed their interaction with people from mainland China. They also expressed their opinions on questions posed by the president as to whether the pace of change in cross-strait ties at this point is too fast and whether government rules on allowing mainland students to study here are too strict. The president carefully listened to the opinions of the student leaders, and encouraged them to ponder the future development of cross-strait affairs in the process of exchanging opinions with others.