During a meeting on the afternoon of March 3 with Adolf Ogi (former president of the Swiss Confederation) and an economic and trade delegation from the Swiss Economic Forum (SEF) that is touring emerging economies in Asia, President Ma Ying-jeou explained the current state of exchanges and cooperation between Taiwan and Switzerland. He also expressed hope that the two sides will sign a bilateral economic cooperation agreement as soon as possible in order to promote the development of economic and trade ties.
In remarks, President Ma noted that in addition to two terms each as president and vice president of the Swiss Confederation, Mr. Ogi has also headed Switzerland's Federal Department of Transport, Communications and Energy as well as its Federal Department of Defense, Civil Protection and Sports. In addition, during his tenure as the UN under-secretary-general, he actively promoted Switzerland's participation in international affairs. Mr. Ogi, said the president, has thus compiled an outstanding and much-admired record of contributions and successes in his career. Turning his attention to the SEF delegation, President Ma noted that the group's members include delegation head and SEF Co-CEO Peter Stahli, as well as leaders from the Swiss business community and many other fields. The president expressed confidence that the delegation's interactions with Taiwan's business community during this visit will do much to deepen the development of substantive relations between Taiwan and Switzerland, making this a very significant visit.
President Ma stated that both Taiwan and Switzerland are committed to democratic values, peace, freedom, human rights, and the rule of law, and while the two nations do not have formal diplomatic ties, they nevertheless have long had friendly relations, maintaining increasingly close interaction in many different areas. Switzerland is Taiwan's sixth-largest trading partner in Europe, and bilateral trade in 2015 totaled US$2.11 billion. The Agreement between Taiwan and Switzerland for the Avoidance of Double Taxation, which entered into force at the end of 2011, has ushered in a business-friendly environment that provides tax fairness and encourages investment. Moreover, the First Taiwan-Switzerland Joint Business Council Meeting, held last October, was an event of historic significance that will contribute to the further deepening of bilateral trade ties.
Commenting on cultural exchanges, President Ma noted that Switzerland is a very scenic nation with a booming tourism industry and world-famous hotel management schools where about 200 Taiwanese students study each year. In addition, over 100 Taiwanese students each year are enrolled in Swiss master's and doctoral programs. The president also mentioned that statistics show that international tourist arrivals in Taiwan topped 10 million last year, so "We really need these people to help us develop Taiwan's tourism industry."
Turning to the topic of the government's promotion of trade liberalization and active pursuit of participation in the process of regional economic integration, President Ma pointed out that Taiwan signed the Cross-Straits Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement with mainland China in 2010 and the Taiwan-Japan Bilateral Investment Arrangement in 2011, as well as the ANZTEC economic cooperation agreement with New Zealand and the ASTEP economic partnership agreement with Singapore in 2013. Negotiations with the US under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) also resumed in 2013. These undertakings, said the president, demonstrate Taiwan's determination to liberalize trade and build up a fair competition environment.
The president further pointed out that Taiwan is actively working to join regional economic bodies such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, and hopes to sign an economic cooperation agreement or bilateral investment agreement with the European Union. Last October, the European Commission's Directorate-General for Trade also issued a paper entitled "Trade for all: Towards a more responsible trade and investment policy," in which the Commission expressly states its intention to explore launching negotiations on an investment agreement with Taiwan. Hopefully, the president said, Taiwan and Switzerland will act quickly to sign such an agreement to further deepen bilateral economic and trade cooperation.
On the topic of cross-strait relations, President Ma stated that since he took office in 2008 his administration has sought to promote peaceful development with mainland China. Over the past seven years the two sides have signed 23 agreements, and the heads of the agencies on either side responsible for cross-strait affairs have met a total of seven times, and addressed each other using their official titles at those meetings. As for non-governmental ties, President Ma noted the following: the number of regularly scheduled direct cross-strait flights now exceeds 890 per week; there are now about 42,000 mainland students studying in Taiwan as of January 2016, almost 50 times more than the 823 students who had been studying here before he took office; and arrivals from mainland China exceeded four million last year. Concrete successes such as these clearly show that the Taiwan Strait has been transformed from a "battlefield" into a "marketplace."
And on November 7 last year, said the president, and predicated on equality and dignity, he met with mainland Chinese leader Xi Jinping (習近平) in Singapore. This was the first time since the two sides came under separate rule 67 years ago that their respective leaders had formally met. The two sides agreed to treat the 1992 Consensus as the basis for continued maintenance of the cross-strait status quo and consolidation of peace in the Taiwan Strait. "Peace," he said, "is a very important goal in cross-strait relations."
Commenting on Taiwan's efforts on behalf of regional peace, President Ma noted that Taiwan and Japan signed a bilateral fisheries agreement in April of 2013, thus putting a 40-year fisheries dispute to rest. As a result, Taiwan has achieved its goal of "not ceding an inch on sovereignty while making great progress in terms of fishing rights," he stated. And in September of 2013, People to People International awarded President Ma the Eisenhower Medallion, which stands as clear recognition of Taiwan's contributions to peace in the East China Sea.
President Ma further pointed out that Taiwan extended the concepts of the East China Sea Peace Initiative to the South China Sea in May of 2015 when it issued the South China Sea Peace Initiative to urge all parties to resolve disputes peacefully through negotiations. And then in November of that same year, Taiwan and the Philippines signed the Agreement Concerning the Facilitation of Cooperation on Law Enforcement in Fisheries Matters. The two sides have agreed to refrain from using force in law enforcement actions, to notify each other prior to such actions, and to release detained fishing vessels and crews within three days in case of arrest or impoundment. This agreement has successfully reduced conflict between the two sides. In the future, he said, hopefully Taiwan can achieve its vision of "peace in three seas" by establishing peace first in the Taiwan Strait before replicating its success first in the East China Sea and then the South China Sea.
In March of 2015, stated the president, the European Parliament passed the Resolution on the Annual Report from the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to the European Parliament, which stresses that to maintain peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, all parties should resolve disagreements through peaceful means in accordance with international law and cooperate to exploit natural and marine resources. The resolution also accords nicely with the spirit of the East China Sea Peace Initiative and the South China Sea Peace Initiative proposed by the ROC government, which shows that the international community sees our government's efforts to promote regional peace in a very positive light.
Commenting on humanitarian aid, President Ma mentioned that after the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, donations from Taiwan totaled US$200 million. And in the wake of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Africa, the ROC donated 100,000 sets of personal protective equipment to affected areas in West Africa, and then donated US$1 million to the US CDC Foundation as part of an international fund to fight the virus. Meanwhile, with the cooperation of the US, Taiwan set up a training program in Tainan for people involved in Ebola prevention and treatment work. Under that program, courses are organized to prepare health care professionals from the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Vietnam to work in Ebola treatment units, he said, and a first session has already been held. In addition, to assist refugees from war in parts of the Middle East, the government at the end of last year donated 350 pre-fab structures to northern Iraq, and also donated rice and other relief materials. And Taiwan also cooperated with Turkey to build a school for 1,500 Syrian refugee children. Through such efforts, Taiwan has continued to show the spirit of empathy and contributed to the international community.