New Cabinet gets policy lesson from Chen, Yu
4 June 2004
By Lin Fang-yan
President Chen Shui-bian and Premier Yu Shyi-kun gave speeches to more than 40 members of the new Cabinet during a two-day orientation program in picturesque Ilan County in late May. The educational trip was arranged to familiarize the new appointees with government policy for the next four years.
Chen told the new administrative team that the four toughest challenges facing Taiwan are improving cross-strait relations, harmonizing the economy with World Trade Organization (WTO) regulations, kick-starting the island’s economic revival and dealing with the problems associated with being an island nation. He urged the new Cabinet members to keep these four challenges in mind, suggesting that solving these problems is key to Taiwan’s development.
As exchange between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait has increased, said Chen, the nature of the cross-strait relationship has changed from a purely political one to one involving all aspects of life, including disease control, law enforcement, and the settlement and employment of the growing number of Chinese brides in Taiwan.
"Cross-strait affairs are not the sole responsibility of the Mainland Affairs Council but indeed of all government agencies," declared the president. "While Beijing allows its central and local units to deal with Taiwan affairs, similar institutions established here under local governments have not yet yielded satisfactory results." He urged government agencies at all levels to pay more attention to cross-strait affairs, including conducting a regular review of the cross-strait situation.
Since the end of the Cold War, the importance of the WTO has surpassed that of the United Nations, said Chen. The global economic body offers Taiwan the opportunity to take part in world affairs on an equal footing with other nations. "As a member of the global village, Taiwan is duty-bound to conform to international rules and regulations set forth by world organizations such as the WTO," noted the president. He asked the administrative team not to just passively follow world norms but to actively seek more favorable conditions for trade growth.
Chen made several proposals regarding development, including research into Taiwan’s maritime resources, improving the foreign-language ability of ROC citizens, and encouraging young people to broaden their horizons by traveling abroad and taking part in government-run aid programs in underdeveloped countries.
Echoing the president’s remarks, Yu called on Beijing to put aside its differences with Taipei and resume dialogue, saying Taiwan is willing to hold talks anytime, anywhere and on any subject. "Only through exchanges and talks can cross-strait differences be resolved and cross-strait relations be stabilized," he asserted.
The premier called on his new Cabinet to cultivate a sense of national identity and promote ethnic harmony in a pluralistic society. He urged the administrators to help build a social safety net, fight organized crime, clean up the political environment and strengthen Taiwan’s global competitiveness by pursuing free-trade agreements (FTA) with major trading nations. Yu asked the officials to make interdepartmental communication and coordination more efficient to accomplish these objectives more quickly.
On the economic front, Yu highlighted the importance of entering into FTAs with trading partners as a means of preventing Taiwan from becoming marginalized in the wake of regional integration.
"Taiwan is already isolated politically in the world community. We cannot afford to be further isolated economically," said the premier. He explained that FTAs had become a top priority of the government’s economic agenda because an economic breakthrough could help break the political deadlock in which Taiwan currently finds itself. Among those countries with which Taiwan would like to enter into trade pacts are the United States, Japan, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Taiwan inked its first FTA with Panama last August. Each country agreed to open its markets to the other’s agricultural and industrial products as well as its service and financial firms. It is believed that the bilateral free-trade pact will help Panama economically by serving as a gateway to the rest of Asia for goods from the Central American country, while Taiwan could use its relationship with Panama to access the massive Latin American market.
Despite the government’s hope that the Taiwan-Panama FTA would inspire other nations to quickly follow suit, little progress has been made largely due to political pressure from China.
According to the premier, the best strategy to overcome this barrier is to strike a free-trade deal with the United States. Unfortunately, the United States suspended talks in 1998 under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement —a precursor to talks on a U.S.-Taiwan FTA—citing the island’s poor record protecting intellectual property rights (IPR).
The premier vowed to improve IPR protection in Taiwan and to resolve other thorny trade issues with the United States, including rice imports and access to Taiwan’s telecommunications market for U.S. firms.
The government is currently studying the feasibility of establishing a piracy-only court dedicated exclusively to dealing with IPR-related cases. The Judicial Yuan is planning meetings to assess three proposals drafted by the previous Cabinet regarding the formation of such a unique judicial institution.