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President Ma's Remarks at Videoconference with Members of the European Parliament

Dr. Werner Langen, Chairman of the European Parliament-Taiwan Friendship Group;
Prof. Jerzy Buzek, Chair of the European Parliament’s Conference of Committee Chairs;
Dr. Viviane Reding, Honorary Chairperson of the European Parliament-Taiwan Friendship Group;
Members of the European Parliament;
Honored guests;
Ladies and gentlemen:

Good morning!

To start off, I’d like to thank Dr. Langen, Chairman of the European Parliament-Taiwan Friendship Group, for organizing my first videoconference between Taiwan and Members of the European Parliament. Since 2009, I have participated in six videoconferences with academic institutions such as the US Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), and Harvard and Stanford universities. Those videoconferences were effective platforms for exchanging ideas, so I have been looking forward to communicating with the Members of the European Parliament here today. I would also like to extend special thanks to the European Parliament-Taiwan Friendship Group for their long-standing efforts in promoting the Taiwan-EU partnership.

First of all, I’d like to talk about The European Experience that has inspired us here in the Republic of China (Taiwan).

After the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, France ceded Alsace and Lorraine to Germany. Thereafter, the French writer Alphonse Daudet wrote a short story entitled La Derniere Classe, or The Last Class. As the story goes, there was a little boy in Alsace who often skipped class. But one day the school announced that “everyone must come to class the day after tomorrow.” On that day the little boy, feeling uneasy, hurried to school. The teacher made an impassioned speech to the class saying that, “French is the most beautiful language in the world. But this is your last class. Starting tomorrow, you will learn German.” At the end of class, the teacher wrote on the blackboard, “Vive la France!” Then he announced, “It’s over...You are dismissed.” (In French: “C'est fini...allez-vous-en”)Since the 1930s when that story came to China, it has moved many generations of Chinese people.

Although France and Germany had been engaged in conflict for over a century, after World War II they launched a massive student exchange program that involved millions of young people. That program completely changed Franco-German relations, and together, those two countries became the mainstays of European unity.

After the Maastricht Treaty was signed in 1992, Europe decided to make the Euro its sole currency. France and Germany were ready to abandon their proud national currencies, the franc and the Deutsche mark, in favor of the Euro. I was visiting Europe at the time and was overwhelmed with admiration.

A female member of the German Bundestag was visiting Taiwan recently, and told me that her participation in the student exchange program as a youth was a revelation. That shows how decisions made long ago by visionary politicians can still have a profound impact today. I often think that if young people from the two countries can meet, they can help their motherland put the hatreds of the past behind them. It follows that if ethnic Chinese youth build friendships across the Taiwan Strait, then the two sides would never have to go to war. So as president, I have vigorously promoted cross-strait student exchanges. Before I became president, Taiwan had only 823 students from mainland China. We now have 33,000, 40 times more. I firmly believe that having young people build cross-strait relationships early in life will decrease misunderstandings, and help preserve peace.

The second inspiration comes from the North Sea. In 1959 vast reserves of petroleum and natural gas were discovered on the North Sea continental shelf. But in the 1960s disputes arose as the UK, Germany, Denmark, and Norway all claimed sovereignty over that maritime zone. So in 1969, the International Court of Justice in The Hague made a historic ruling in the North Sea Continental Shelf Cases, and thereafter, the countries involved began to negotiate maritime boundaries and exploit the oil reserves. Having studied the Law of the Sea for many years, seeing Europe address the North Sea issue in the spirit of shelving disputes while sharing resources made a deep impression on me.

In August of 2012 I proposed the East China Sea Peace Initiative. Its core spirit is that although sovereignty cannot be compromised, resources can be shared, and urges all the relevant parties to shelve sovereignty disputes, resolve conflicts by peaceful means, and share natural resources. So in April of 2013, Taiwan and Japan reached a fisheries agreement by shelving the territorial disputes that had clouded our relationship for 40 years. Before the agreement, we had, on average, over ten disputes per year; after that, we’ve had none. And the fishery catch more than doubled. These are concrete achievements that show how the East China Sea Peace Initiative works in practice, helping to promote regional peace and prosperity.

Based on the success of the East China Sea Peace Initiative, in May of this year I also proposed a South China Sea Peace Initiative. My goal was to work together with all the stakeholders in the South China Sea to maintain stability, jointly develop natural resources, shelve territorial disputes, and foster long-term regional peace and prosperity.

Here I want to extend a special thanks to Chairman Werner Langen, Honorary Chairman Dr. Charles Tannock, and the many Members of the European Parliament who publicly supported the East China Sea and South China Sea peace initiatives. I sincerely hope that the European Parliament will continue to support Taiwan’s efforts to maintain regional peace.

The third European experience is the Basis of Relations Agreement, the Grundlagenvertrag, signed by East and West Germany in 1972. Both of them had already acknowledged their counterpart’s authority to govern. But they used the concept of Hoheitsgewalt, meaning supreme power, to decouple that authority from the traditional concept of sovereignty, or Souveränität. The West German Chancellor at that time, Willy Brandt, also sent a letter to his East German counterpart stating that the content of the Treaty did not violate the Obligation to Reunify Germany in the Preamble to West Germany’s Basic Law.

Of course, the historical context of the two Germanies and the cross-strait circumstances at that time were quite different. But the situation in Germany still gave us much inspiration in thinking about cross-strait policy. The current cross-strait position, which entails the “mutual non-recognition of sovereignty, and mutual non-denial of governing authority,” was influenced by the concept of separating sovereignty and governing authority adopted by the two Germanies, and has been a great asset in the development of cross-strait peace and stability.

Since I became president in 2008, under the framework of the ROC Constitution, we have maintained the cross-strait status quo, defined as “no unification, no independence, and no use of force.” And based on the 1992 Consensus, whereby each side insists on the existence of "one China" but maintains its own interpretation of what that “China” means, we have continued to promote peaceful development in the Taiwan Strait. As a result, against the historical backdrop of the past 66 years, stability and peace in cross-strait relations are now at an all-time high.

Over the past seven years the two sides of the Taiwan Strait have signed 23 agreements covering a variety of subjects. Meanwhile, mainland tourists have made over 14 million visits to Taiwan, with four million visits in the past year alone. Seven years ago there were zero cross-strait direct scheduled flights. Now we have 120 scheduled cross-strait flights every day, serving 62 cities on both sides of the Strait. Not too long ago, that was simply unimaginable. On top of that, in the last two years, the ministers in charge of cross-strait affairs from both sides of the Strait have held five formal meetings where both sides used their official titles, a sure sign that cooperation has gradually replaced confrontation in cross-strait relations.

So over the past seven years, the High Representatives or spokespersons of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy have issued statements of approval, encouraging both sides to adopt measures to expand cooperation and thereby promote regional peace. In March of this year, the European Parliament also passed a resolution adopting the Annual Report from the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, which highlights the importance of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, and welcomes improvements in cross-strait relations.

Since I became president in 2008, the relationship between Taiwan and the EU and its member states has continued to advance. The most important indicator of that progress came in January of 2011 when the EU included Taiwan nationals in the Schengen visa waiver program. So we’ve seen the number of Taiwan tourists visiting Europe increase dramatically over the past four years. They not only admire European culture, but have also proven to be very serious shoppers. In fact, the money they spend probably makes up for the money that countries lose by offering free visas.

It’s worth mentioning that in the 20 years between 1988 and 2008, only 54 countries or areas offered Taiwan nationals visa-free courtesies or landing visas. But since I took office in 2008, we have added 94 jurisdictions; in 2011 alone, we added 63. Taiwan citizens now enjoy visa conveniences in 148 jurisdictions. In addition to the 35 countries and territories in Europe that gave us the Schengen visa exemption, numerous other jurisdictions saw what the EU had done, and then followed suit. That includes 11 overseas territories of France, and six of Holland’s, as well as European countries like Albania and Kosovo.

So the European Parliament has been quite influential, directly or indirectly accounting for half of the countries and areas that extend visa-free courtesies to Taiwan nationals. So here, I want to acknowledge the Parliament’s tremendous contribution to Taiwan, and express my sincere thanks. Over the past seven years, Taiwan has signed 79 official agreements and memorandums of understanding with the EU and European countries, covering cooperative relationships on various levels, and in various areas including technology, education, customs and tariffs, telecommunications, judicial assistance, youth working holiday programs, food safety, innovation, and R&D.

The European Union is also very concerned about political and economic developments in Taiwan. Over the past seven years the European Parliament and European External Action Service have passed 9 resolutions and issued 18 statements friendly to Taiwan, supporting peaceful cross-strait development, expanding our international participation, and strengthening Taiwan-EU economic and trade cooperation.

I sincerely hope that, based on our current cultural, economic, and scientific cooperation, we can use the existing consultative mechanisms to continue to expand cooperation, and enhance our outstanding partnership.

Taiwan and the EU have strong economic and trade relations. The EU is Taiwan’s fifth-largest trading partner, and Taiwan is the EU’s seventh-largest trading partner in Asia, and 19th largest overall. In 2014, two-way trade reached 50.9 billion US dollars, up 3.7% over the previous year. The EU is also Taiwan’s largest aggregate source of foreign investment, with total investments reaching 33 billion US dollars by the end of 2014.

Just to give you a few concrete examples, in 2013 the German multinational Merck established Asia’s first New Business R&D and Application Lab in Taiwan. And in 2014, Great Britain’s ARM set up its first Asian CPU Design Center here. In May of this year, the Republic of China also formally became part of the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN), the beginning of a new era of cooperation between small and medium sized enterprises in Taiwan and Europe.

So I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the European Parliament for passing a resolution on Taiwan-EU trade relations back in October of 2013. That resolution calls on the European Commission to begin talks with the ROC on an investment protection and market access agreement. Since the EU and mainland China have been in talks about an investment agreement for almost two years, from a strategic point of view, the best time for the EU and Taiwan to start parallel talks on a bilateral investment agreement is…now.

I hereby propose that the EU open talks with Taiwan on a bilateral investment agreement, which will have a synergistic effect with our cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), and generate a cross-strait “peace dividend” that will benefit one and all.

Since day one of my tenure as president, I have pursued a path of viable diplomacy, stabilizing and strengthening relationships with our existing allies. In countries where we don’t enjoy formal ties, we have nevertheless been cultivating substantive relations. At the same time, we’ve expanded our participation in global affairs so that the international community can see Taiwan for what we really are: a responsible stakeholder, a peacemaker, and a provider of international humanitarian aid.

Our efforts toward greater international participation over the past 7 years have seen some success. In 2009 Taiwan became a signatory to the World Trade Organization's Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA). Since then, the World Health Organization (WHO) has also invited the ROC to participate in the World Health Assembly (WHA) as an observer for seven consecutive years. And in 2013, the director general of Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration was also invited to attend the 38th annual conference of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) as a special guest.

Although Taiwan is not a signatory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in 2009 we committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And in June of this year, the Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction and Management Act became law. That Act sets long-term national emission reduction targets for the year 2050, ensuring that Taiwan is working together with countries around the world to address climate change.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank the EU for their continuing support for Taiwan in our quest for meaningful participation in international organizations. We also hope that the European Parliament will continue to pass resolutions supporting Taiwan’s meaningful participation in global cooperative efforts such as the UNFCCC, the ICAO, and the WHO, as well as international organizations, conventions, and mechanisms that are responding to the challenges of globalization.

For over 60 years, the European Union has been transforming hostility into friendship, while actively promoting peace, reconciliation, democracy, and human rights in Europe, garnering the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012. Here I would like to publicly state that the EU’s Peace Prize was indeed richly deserved, and that I was among your most enthusiastic supporters.

Taiwan and the EU share the universal values of freedom, democracy, rule of law, and human rights. I fully intend to work with the EU and its member states to strengthen Taiwan-EU relations, fostering an even closer and more solid partnership. At the same time, Taiwan will continue to act as a peacemaker, working with all of the countries in the Asia-Pacific region to maintain regional peace and prosperity.

Thank you all for listening. Our program will now continue with a Q&A session, so please do submit your questions.

I hope you will all find today’s videoconference both stimulating, and enlightening. Thank you very much!


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