TAIPEI–Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou has rejected criticism that he has fallen into Beijing’s “trap” and vowed to press on with a controversial policy of greater economic integration with the Chinese mainland. In an interview with the Financial Times, Ma dismissed allegations from the Taiwanese opposition that in exchange for trade sweeteners, Beijing will extract political concessions, in order to make reunification inevitable. “We will maintain the status quo of ‘no unification, no independence and no use of force,’” Ma, who is up for re-election next year, was quoted in the report yesterday as saying. The island is only “a quarter to a third” of the way into opening its economy to the mainland, he was quoted as saying, and “there is still much work to be done,” but “there is no pressing need to deal with political issues.” “The most important thing is to defuse and minimize the possibility of conflict,” he added, denying that Taipei was on course to become overly dependent on its former bitter rival Beijing. President Ma took office in May 2008 on a Beijing-friendly platform and his government has since concluded more than a dozen deals with the mainland aimed at boosting trade and tourism.
“We must courageously face the fact of mainland China’s rise and calmly respond,” Ma told the newspaper. Despite U.S. military support for Taiwan, Ma said, “We certainly can’t rely on weapons alone. We don’t have the ability to engage in an arms race with the mainland … We need to employ soft power as well.” The island hopes to strike free trade agreements with Singapore and other Asian countries following the signing of a major trade pact with China last year, he added. Despite fast-warming ties, anti-China sentiments remain strong in some parts of Taiwan, particularly in the south, the stronghold of the pro-independence opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The DPP argues Ma is failing to see that China intends to promote its unification agenda through economic means. “China intends to use economic integration to squeeze Taiwan’s political space and to push for unification but Ma doesn’t have the sensitivity to recognize this,” said DPP spokesman Tseng Wen-tsang. “Ma is betting Taiwan’s economic future on China and he is making Taiwan more and more dependent on China,” Tseng said.