President Ma Ying-jeou met on the morning of November 19 with a delegation led by Harry Jenkins, a member of Australia's House of Representatives. In addition to extending a cordial welcome on behalf of the government and people of the ROC, the president expressed his desire for continued strengthening of cooperative relations between the two countries and joint efforts to promote peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.
In remarks, the president first thanked the members of Australia's Senate and House of Representatives for their longstanding support for Taiwan. In June 2010, the Australian parliament passed a motion supporting Taiwan's participation in the World Health Assembly, the International Civil Aviation Organization, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
President Ma explained that substantive relations between Taiwan and Australia have continued to grow in recent years. Bilateral trade last year reached US$14.56 billion, and each country is the 10th largest trading partner of the other, while Taiwan is Australia's sixth largest export market. At the same time, ROC citizens last year made nearly 88,000 tourist visits to Australia, he said. Meanwhile, over 13,000 youths from Taiwan participated in a working holiday program between the two countries, while 8,400 students from Taiwan were studying in Australia. Also, the number of Australian tourists to Taiwan exceeded 60,000, he said. These numbers point to increasingly close people-to-people contacts between the two sides, he added. Furthermore, the president stated, each year Taiwan and Australia rotate in hosting the Taiwan-Australia Joint Energy and Minerals, Trade and Investment Cooperation Consultations. To date, the two sides have signed memoranda of understanding in 33 areas, which have helped to solidify the foundation for economic cooperation between the two, he said.
The president mentioned that the Australian government on October 28 released the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper, which emphasized the intention of Australia to strengthen its cooperation and contact with Asian nations. In recent years, Australia has continued to enhance its position and role in Asia, he said, which Taiwan welcomes.
President Ma stated that he feels strongly about the importance of peace in the Asian region, and consequently since taking office over four years ago he has actively pursued improvement in relations with mainland China. Over this time period, Taiwan and mainland China have signed 18 agreements, which have created the basis for the most stable relations between the two sides in the past 60 years, he said. At the same time, Taiwan has improved its relations with Japan, the United States, and ASEAN nations, he added, expressing his hopes that the countries in the region will work together in a bid to forge stability throughout the Asia-Pacific.
With respect to the controversy in the East China Sea involving sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islets, President Ma stated that over the past few months the sovereignty dispute has come to the forefront, along with issues associated with fishing rights in that area. President Ma remarked that the ROC takes the stance that "although sovereignty over national territory cannot be compromised, natural resources can be shared." Consequently, he unveiled his East China Sea Peace Initiative, under which all parties are urged to shelve the dispute and jointly develop resources in the area. The president pointed to the example of European nations in the 1960s in jointly developing oil fields in the North Sea, with the nations involved working together to resolve the dispute in a peaceful manner. As the result, Brent Crude has now become one of the world's most famous petroleum trading classifications, he said. The president pointed out that there are enormous potential resources under the East China Sea, and it is a pity that they have yet to be developed. In particular, he stated that all the neighboring countries are importers of oil and it would be beneficial to all to actively develop these resources. Besides meeting the needs of these countries, this cooperation could also help to ease the dispute over sovereignty, the president said.
President Ma told the visitors that six years ago he visited Sydney and Canberra. During the visit, local think tanks, the parliament, and the media all expressed concern about cross-strait relations and the state of affairs in the South Pacific. During an address he delivered at the Lowy Institute, he mentioned that Taiwan should first improve its relationship with mainland China and work to expand its participation in the international community. President Ma said that the vision that he expressed in that speech has largely been realized. Meanwhile, two years ago he visited the Solomon Islands and received a briefing from the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands, which is largely operated by the Australian government. This indicated, he said, that Taiwan and Australia have gradually reached a consensus on their South Pacific policies, adding that he hopes in the future the two sides can continue to bolster their cooperative relationship to forge peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.
In addition to MP Jenkins, other members of parliament in attendance were Teresa Gambaro, Josh Frydenberg, Jane Prentice, Darren Chester, Craig Kelly, Graham Perrett, and Luke Simpkins. The group was accompanied to the Presidential Office by Australian Commerce and Industry Office in Taipei Representative Kevin Magee to meet President Ma. Also attending the meeting were Secretary-General to the President Timothy Chin-tien Yang (楊進添), National Security Council Advisor Francis Yi-Hua Kan (甘逸驊), and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Tung Kuoyu (董國猷).