President Ma Ying-jeou met on the afternoon of March 3 with a delegation led by Fabrizio Cicchitto, Chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Italian Chamber of Deputies. In addition to briefing his visitors on relations between Taiwan and Italy, the president also called for further deepening of friendly bilateral ties.
In remarks, President Ma noted that Mr. Cicchitto entered politics some 40 years ago, and has served seven terms in the Italian Parliament. Long engaged in social movements and political party activities, he has demonstrated a deep concern for religious and political affairs. Mr. Cicchitto is also very interested in the state of relations between Taiwan and mainland China, and on many occasions has issued calls to maintain regional peace and stability, as well as preserve Taiwan's democratic freedoms and economic prosperity. On this trip to Taiwan Mr. Cicchitto received an honorary doctorate in law from Chinese Culture University in recognition of his outstanding success in the field of jurisprudence.
President Ma stated that his visitors are all steadfast friends of Taiwan in the Italian Parliament, where they have long given Taiwan support. Examples include support for passage of a law guaranteeing that foreign art pieces on loan will not be impounded, support for strengthened bilateral economic and trade talks, and the presentation of several petitions and individual letters expressing support for Taiwan. All of these actions have significantly helped to promote exchanges between the two countries.
Commenting on bilateral economic and trade ties, President Ma noted that Italy is currently Taiwan's fifth-largest trading partner in the European Union (EU), with two-way trade in 2015 reaching US$3.7 billion, and direct investment by Taiwan in Italy now stands at about US$700 million. Turning to the topic of technological and educational exchange, the president mentioned that Taiwan's Ministry of Science and Technology and the National Research Council of Italy in 2011 signed another four-year science cooperation agreement under which the two sides fund selected research projects, scientific seminars, and reciprocal visits. Last year the two countries also jointly held the Taiwan-Italy Bilateral Workshop on Smart Cities to discuss related technologies, research results, and the possible direction of future cooperation. In 2011, the president added, Taiwan's Ministry of Education and the Third University of Rome (Università degli Studi Roma Tre) signed a Letter of Intent on the Designation of Taiwan Academy Contact Points and Bilateral Cooperation, followed by the signing in 2013 of a memorandum of cooperation on the Taiwan Studies Project. This was deeply significant in that it marked the first time that Taiwan and Italy had signed an academic cooperation agreement.
On the topic of arts and cultural exchange, President Ma pointed out that cultural groups from Taiwan also frequently visit Italy to perform at the Venice Biennale and other international cultural events. The president said that he personally visited the Venice Biennale in 2001 and the experience left a deep impression on him. In addition, he mentioned, his wife Chow Mei-ching (周美青) served as the honorary leader of the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan and the Evergreen Symphony Orchestra when those two troupes performed in Italy. In addition, the National Palace Museum and the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence last November jointly held the Giuseppe Castiglione—Lang Shining New Media Art Exhibition, another example of steady progress in bilateral arts and cultural exchanges.
President Ma also mentioned that Taiwan since 2011 has signed a number of trade and investment cooperation agreements with major trading partners—such as Japan, New Zealand, and Singapore—in an effort to promote trade liberalization and regional economic integration, and has also resumed negotiations with the United States under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement. At the same time, the ROC has been actively pursuing entry into regional economic integration mechanisms such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Last year, Taiwan and Italy also signed an agreement for the avoidance of double taxation that will be extremely effective in promoting bilateral trade and investment relations.
Commenting on Taiwan-EU relations, President Ma pointed out that the European Parliament in October of 2013 passed a resolution on EU-Taiwan trade relations calling on the European Commission to launch negotiations with Taiwan on investment protection and market entry agreements. 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 starting negotiations on an investment agreement with Taiwan. The president expressed hope that after returning home, his visitors will continue to help promote the signing of an economic cooperation agreement or bilateral investment agreement between Taiwan and the EU so that bilateral economic and trade ties can continue to deepen, and the two sides can enjoy shared friendship and prosperity.
Regarding cross-strait relations, President Ma said that since taking office in 2008 he has consistently sought, under the framework of the ROC Constitution and in line with the 1992 Consensus—whereby each side acknowledges the existence of "one China" but maintains its own interpretation of what that means—to maintain the status quo of "no unification, no independence, and no use of force" in the Taiwan Strait, and to seek peaceful cross-strait relations. The two sides have now signed 23 agreements, and the ministers in charge of cross-strait affairs from each side have met seven times, addressing each other using their official titles. And on November 7 last year, said the president, he met with mainland Chinese leader Xi Jinping (習近平) in Singapore, where the two sides reached a consensus on the need to "consolidate peace in the Taiwan Strait and maintain the status quo in cross-strait relations."
The president stated his belief that the continued development of cross-strait relations towards peace has also triggered considerable progress in Taiwan's relations with the United States, Japan, the EU, ASEAN, New Zealand, and Australia. Even though Taiwan maintains official diplomatic relations with only 22 nations, the number of countries and areas that provide ROC nationals with visa-free entry or landing visa courtesies now stands at 161, three times the 54 countries providing such courtesies before President Ma took office. This development shows that the international community views Taiwan in an increasingly positive light.
The president further pointed out that the EU not only has provided ROC nationals with visa-free courtesies, but has also expressed support for Taiwan to participate in the World Health Assembly and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Assembly. What lends such developments landmark significance, he said, is the fact that they marked the first time that the ROC had been invited to take part in these gatherings in some 30 to 40 years, since the nation lost its representation in the United Nations. President Ma encouraged the parliamentarians to continue exercising their influence and supporting Taiwan's meaningful participation in the ICAO and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, so that the ROC can contribute to the international community.