Thursday, December 31, 2009

25-year friendship bonds president, German lawmaker

A love for Taiwan and 25 years of friendship with President Ma Ying-jeou are the reasons Karl Lamers, a member of the German Parliament and President of the Atlantic Treaty Association, decided to exchange his New Year holiday for a trip to Taiwan, Lamers told CNA Thursday.

Lamers, 74, who was in the middle of a six-day visit along with German MPs Anita Schafer and Robert Hochbaum, lauded Ma's pragmatic methods of reducing problems across the Taiwan Strait and bringing peace and stability to what was once one of the world's most volatile flash points.

It was more than 20 years ago when Lamers, a young Christian Democratic Union (CDU) member with no function in the party and Ma, who was serving as an interpreter to the late President Chiang Ching-kuo, struck up their friendship in an inter-party collaboration that brought dozens of young Germans to Taipei and young Kuomintang (KMT) members from Taiwan to the German city of Heidelberg.

That was his most unforgettable experience of Taiwan, Lamers said, adding that "later we both decided to go into politics and here we are." Recalling his first encounter with Ma, Lamers said he stood out because "he realizes what he says, does what he says and knows how to convince people -- all unique characteristics of a great politician." "And of course, he's good-looking, " he said.

Last March, Lamers was in Ma's campaign office to witness his landslide win in the presidential election.

Lamers, who is on his fifth visit to the country, has a connection to Taiwan dating back as far as 30 years, when "China was still an enemy and Taiwan was totally different from now in terms of democracy," he said.

But now China is a part of cooperation and Ma deserves the credit for implementing a "peace policy" that includes "three noes" (no independence, no unification and no use of force) that has relaxed cross-strait tension, he said.

Commenting on the future of Taiwan and China, Lamers said Ma made it clear that "it's a question to be solved by the next generation." Just like the unification of Germany, "such development takes time and maybe one day the door will open," he noted.

Meanwhile, Hochbaun said that timing is everything, adding that Germany was unified at a time "when politicians had no opportunities to do anything against it" and it was a step-by-step process instead of happening overnight.

China has sent out a signal of goodwill toward Taiwan, Lamers observed, in allowing Taiwan observer status in the World Health Assembly (WHA) and "hopefully good things will happen in Taiwan's participation in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the International Civil Aviation Organization." In terms of China's missiles deployed against Taiwan and it's anti-secession law, the veteran politician noted that there was a time when every Taiwanese was in fear of China's use of missiles.

"But in the past two years we have not had the feeling that the people were in fear. Yes, the missiles are still there but they're no longer a threat to the people of Taiwan because of the reduced tensions," he said.

Lamers said Ma was doing the right thing in advocating a proposed economic cooperation framework agreement between the two sides of the strait because "Taiwan should be incorporated into the global economic system and should not be isolated." Taiwan's armed forces have good equipment, good training and educated soldiers, observed Lamers, who also serves as deputy chairman of the German Parliament's Defense Committee.

However, Germany currently focuses its exchanges with Taiwan solely on trade and culture, he went on, adding that arm sales or military cooperation is out of the question at present.

Taiwan NGOs still facing obstructions from China

Taipei, Dec. 31 (CNA) Taiwan's nongovernmental organizations are still facing China's obstruction internationally with more than a dozen NGOs being requested to change their names this year, but the trend was unrelated to the new flexible diplomatic approach of Taiwan's government, according to a foreign ministry official.

"Around a dozen Taiwan NGOs were requested to change names by respective international NGOs this year. The number is slightly down from last year, " said David Wu, vice chairman of the NGO Affairs Committee.

Due to political differences, China has been blocking Taiwan's representation in the international organizations -- governmental or non-governmental -- for years. In most cases, Taiwan NGOs are asked to change their names to "Taiwan, China", "Chinese Taipei" or other names.

"There are still incidents of Beijing blocking Taiwan NGOs' representation in the international community, " President Ma Ying-jeou said on Dec. 18, adding that his administration hopes China would move away from that trend of interference "to avoid giving Taiwan's people a bad impression of Chinese authorities." For example, the Internet Society requested its Taiwan chapter to change its membership name to "Taiwan, China" this year, a case which is still being negotiated bilaterally, Wu said.

The Internet Society Taiwan Chapter, YWCA and Taiwan Nurses Association (TNA) are only among a handful of NGOs that face problems each year. Wu noted that there are 2,162 Taiwanese NGOs that are members of INGOs.

The most important thing in such cases is whether the NGO will retain its full rights as a member, regardless of whether its name is eventually changed or not, Wu said.

Answering reporters' questions, Wu said the number of such cases is "unrelated to the flexible diplomacy" Taiwan government is now implementing to ease cross-Taiwan Strait tensions.

Sometimes it is the INGOs who take the initiative to ask Taiwanese NGOs to change their names because those INGOs want to recruit Chinese NGOs, Wu added.

Citing the 70,000-member strong TNA, whose executive director Teresa Yin served as the second vice president of the International Council of Nurses (ICN), as an example, Wu encouraged Taiwan NGOs to increase their participation in the INGOs, because those with high-level representation in international organizations are more likely to be able to fend off China's interference.

Government agencies and NGOs are doing everything they can to relay their message to China, hoping that the long-time rival would relax its interference on Taiwan's international civic participation, he said.

The NGO Affairs Committee asked the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) to add the issue to the cross-strait negotiation agenda, Wu said, but the proposal was turned down.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Lin En-yu named top pick in 2010 Taiwanese pro baseball draft

Taipei, Dec. 30 (CNA) Right-handed pitcher Lin En-yu was selected as the number one pick by the Brother Elephants in the 2010 Taiwanese professional baseball draft, held even though the league's future remains clouded by a major game-fixing scandal.

Lin, a regular on Taiwan's national baseball team who played professionally in Japan for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, was chosen first by the Elephants, before the Sinon Bulls picked 18-year-old Chang Keng-hao of Nan Ying Vocational High School.

In all, 51 players were chosen by the league's four teams.

"With Lin's talent and experience, he brings a lot to the table and will definitely be in our starting rotation next season, " Elephants manager Chen Jui-chen said after the draft.

The 28-year-old compiled a 1-3 record for the Golden Eagles during his three-year stint in Japan from 2007 to 2009, which was plagued by injuries and ineffectiveness.

He has spent the past two years in the Japanese minor league trying to regain the form that earned him Rookie of the Year and MVP honors in his first year in Taiwan's Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) in 2005.

The Elephants hope he will be able to shoulder the heavy responsibility of leading the team, widely seen as the most popular franchise in the CPBL, out from under the darkest cloud in team history.

Thirteen Elephants members, including 12 players and manager Nakagomi Shin, were charged with game-fixing in an ongoing investigation by Taiwan prosecutors in October and November, sparking concern that the team might be disbanded.

Over 40 active and former players and coaches in the league were implicated in the case that shocked the country, where baseball remains the national pastime.

"We are happy to have Lin on our team. He is a proven pitcher and seasoned veteran. Both Taiwanese baseball and the Elephants need him, especially now," Elephants coach Feng Sheng-hsien told reporters. "He will shoulder a great burden of reviving fan interest in the national pastime and the Elephants." Before going to Japan, Lin spent two years (2005-06) in the CPBL with the now-defunct Macoto Cobras, compiling a 29-16 won-loss record and setting an all-time single-season strikeout record of 209.

Sinon also has high hopes for the No. 2 pick, Chang, who will try to jump directly from high school baseball to the professional ranks.

"We have been keeping an eye on Chang for a while. He is a promising young pitcher, but it will take time for him to make the adjustment from high school ball, " said Sinon Assistant General Manager Liu Chih-shen.

For young players like Chang, it was not an easy decision to place their names in the draft pool at a time when the baseball community and fans are still reeling from the aftershocks of the scandal, CPBL Secretary-General Wayne Lee said.

"Young players may have doubts about the league's stability and future. Understandably, it was a difficult decision for them to apply for the draft at this time, " Lee said. "But I told them that as all the teams are still doing their best to prepare for the new season in this difficult time, there will be more and better opportunities for the young guys." In the two-hour draft, the short-handed Elephants picked up 19 players. Sinon and the La New Bears selected 11 each while the defending champion Uni-President Lions added 10 newcomers. None of the players selected in the draft were on hand to witness the process, however.

All of the players selected in the first round were pitchers, as La New selected Lee Chu-kwan third and Uni-President selected Tsai Ching-hao with its top pick.

President Ma Ying-jeou convened a Cabinet-level task force to tackle the issue of reviving local baseball after the scandal broke out and hundreds of fans marched the streets requesting the government's help in "saving the national pastime."

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Online platform to help Taiwan SMEs

Taipei, Dec. 29 (CNA) The Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA) and the Chunghwa Post Company will collaborate to launch an online platform that aims to be the "last mile" in helping local small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to reach international buyers.

TAITRA and Chunghwa announced Tuesday that they will launch a joint integrated service Jan. 1 that provides information flow, logistics and payment flow on a single online platform.

"With 80,000 members and over 1.2 million international buyers in the database, TAITRA's Web site will be able to integrate the services of Chunghwa Post, which has long been known for its logistics expertise and success to help Taiwan's SMEs, " said TAITRA Chairman Wang Chih-kang.

Wang noted that SMEs account for 98 percent of Taiwanese enterprises and have been the pillar of Taiwan's economy for decades, but most smaller companies have problems finding foreign buyers, especially in China.

With the platform, Chunghwa Post provides an express mail service network that covers 103 countries, a 10 percent to 25 percent mail delivery discount and an online payment service so businesses can cut down on their logistics expenses by using this one-stop shop, said Chunghwa Post Chairman Oliver Yu.

The service is expected to benefit Taiwanese businesses, especially to those trying to flex their muscles in China, since China-bound exports account for 40 percent of Taiwan's overall exports, Wang said.

The business-to-business platform will focus on the China market, he went on. The Taiwantrade Web site has launched a version in simplified Chinese and has worked with and -- two of the largest online shopping Web sites in China -- to set up online accounts for Taiwanese companies.

After a nosedive in the second half of 2008 and the ensuing global crisis, Wang said, Taiwan's exports are on the way to recovery, with the total export value surpassing NT$20 billion in November -- the highest figure for the last 13 months.

"TAITRA's aim is to promote Taiwanese products and to assist Taiwanese businessmen to reach out to as many customers as possible," he added.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Four detained Taiwanese fishermen return from Myanmar

Taipei, Dec. 28 (CNA) Four Taiwanese fishermen detained by Myanmar's military for more than a month were released with the assistance of Taiwanese businessmen after paying a fine and returned to Taiwan on a China Airlines flight Monday evening, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA).

Hsu Kuo-yi and Huang Shih-cheng, skippers of the Donggang-based fishing boats Ho Yi Fa and Ming Cheng Yi respectively, and Chen Wan-yi and Pan Chih-nan, crew members the Taiwanese fishing boats Hung Fa 128 and Ching Ming Tsai 130, were detained by Myanmar authorities for entering the country's waters without permission.

The four were sentenced by a Myanmar court to an unspecified jail term and fined on Dec. 12. They were released after paying the fine, set at US$200 for each skipper and US$20 per crew member, but the fishing boats were confiscated by Myanmar.

The families said they were thrilled by the news of the four men's release, but Hsu's wife could not help lamenting over losing the Ho Yi Fa, which cost them over NT$10 million to build 10 years ago and an additional NT$3 million that was invested in the vessel before its most recent fishing mission.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was notified in late November that four Taiwanese fishing trawlers were captured by the Myanmar military. After confirming that there were four Taiwanese among the crew members, the ministry went through various channels to communicate with the Myanmar authorities and ensure the fishermen's safety.

Investment protection, security on cross-strait agenda after ECFA

Taipei, Dec. 28 (CNA) Negotiations between Taiwan and China will move on to the issues of investment protection and security after the signing of a proposed Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) official said Monday.

Taiwan's policy and negotiation priority has always been "economics first, politics second, " which is why it intends to sign the ECFA with China before anything else, said James Chang, deputy director-general of MOFA's Department of Information and Cultural Affairs.

"After the ECFA is signed, both sides will begin an even more difficult and sophisticated part of talks. The new phase of negotiation is expected to touch upon various issues such as investment protection and security, which includes the missiles deployed on China's southeastern coast, as well as anti-terrorism measures," he said.

Chang made the remarks while briefing the media after the ministry briefed around 70 foreign representatives in Taiwan on the results of the fourth round of cross-strait talks.

Taiwan and China both intend to focus on economic issues at present as Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) President Chen Yunlin made it very clear in the talks that "political discussions are not an urgent issue right now, " Chang said.

Once the ECFA is signed, the new phase of negotiations will not be limited to politics.

Taiwan has always called for China to remove its missiles aimed at the country in order to reduce cross-strait tension and convince the people of Taiwan of China's goodwill.

Meanwhile, investment protection is a serious concern of Taiwanese businessmen in China, some of whom have faced legal problems or have suffered operating losses or various forms of fraud in China.

Taiwan has been doing its best since President Ma Ying-jeou took office in 2008 to improve cross-strait relations, Deputy Foreign Minister Shen Lyu-shun told the foreign representatives.

"One side-effect of improved cross-strait relations is the enlargement of Taiwan's international space, " Shen said, citing Taiwan's participation in the World Health Assembly, the Government Procurement Agreement, and high-level representation in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum as examples.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Cross-strait negotiation still an uphill battle

   CNA Staff Reporter  

    The fourth round of Taiwan-China  talks concluded  last week with three agreements  signed amid a series of protests  by the opposition and mixed  views  toward  a proposed  trade  pact that  seeks  closer bilateral economic relations.

    Taiwan's  Straits  Exchange  Foundation  (SEF)   Chairman  Chiang Pin-kung  signed  three  agreements  with Chen Yunlin,  president  of China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) , in the fourth  round of such talks  in the central  city of Taichung, where protesters harassed the negotiations all week.

    The SEF,  the  quasi-official  organization  set up to deal  with cross-strait talks, and the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC),  Taiwan's top China policy-making agency,  both lauded the talks as "fruitful," saying that the 12 agreements signed and a consensus reached over the past two years will benefit the people of both sides.

    The U.S.  maintained  its long-term  policy and cheered  from the sidelines,  encouraging  Taiwan and China to engage in peaceful talks to resolve their differences and reduce tension across the strait.

    But  that  did not  stop  the opposition  and non-believers  from staging protests  throughout  Chen's visit,  with the main opposition Democratic  Progressive  Party  (DPP)  blasting  the  government  for non-transparency  and failure to respect mainstream public opinion in dealing with bilateral matters.

    Twenty  meters  away from  where  Chen  Yunlin  made his farewell speech Dec. 25,  a famous quote engraved on a stone wall reads:  "The meaning  of life is in the birth of new lives that will succeed us in this  universe;  the goal  of living  is in the betterment  of living conditions of the entire humankind."

    The man who said this was Chiang Kai-shek,  the generalissimo who lost to the Chinese  Communist  Party  in the Chinese  civil  war and retreated  to Taiwan in 1949,  starting 60 years of hostility  across the Taiwan Strait.

    On Dec. 21,  the Chinese negotiator's charter flight touched down at Taichung's Chingchuankang  Airport.  Coincidentally,  the airport, which is now known as Taichung International Airport, got its initial name in dedication to late ROC Army Gen. Chiu Ching-chuan, who killed himself after losing a battle in the civil war.

    The contradiction shows how much times have changed since 1949. Once bitter rivals, the Republic of China and the People's Republic of China are now collaborating to boost each other's economic development.

    Also on the day of Chen's  departure,  a Beijing  court sentenced dissident  Liu  Xiaobo  to 11 years  in prison  for  campaigning  for political freedom by organizing the "Charter 08" petition.

    Up until now,  Taiwan has only been allowed  to participate  in a handful   of   international   organizations   because   of   China's interference and there are more than 1,000 missiles deployed in China aimed at Taiwan, still considered a renegade province by China.

    But Chen Yunlin said all the right things during his visit.

    "Hopefully,  the right path for peaceful cross-strait development will be broader  in the future,  " Chen said in his farewell  speech, adding  that  he  appreciated  the  Taiwan  people's  "understanding, support and caring."

    He also offered  to endorse Taichung  City,  where the talks took place, and Sun Moon Lake,  a favorite among Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan.

    The protesters  said  they do not oppose  better  relations  with China but fear that closer economic relations  will cost them jobs in case of a large influx  of Chinese  labor  and products  and a bigger exodus of Taiwanese companies to China.

    The government  has acknowledged  it needs to step up its efforts to explain  to the public the positives  and negatives  of a proposed Economic Cooperation  Framework  Agreement  (ECFA) ,  which is on the agenda of the fifth round of talks scheduled for next spring.

    It has also reiterated  that the whole process of negotiation  is transparent  and beneficial  to Taiwan  and that the government  will safeguard Taiwan's sovereignty every step of the way.

    It is also maintaining  its policy  of "economy  first,  politics second" in dealing with China.

    However, Kenneth Lin, an economics professor at National Taiwan University, argued that "whatever the issue is (between Taiwan and China), it's always a political one in the end."

    It all boils down to one simple question,  Lin said -- "Can China be trusted by the people of Taiwan? "

    The failed  tax agreement  also suggests  that when  it comes  to conflict  of interest,  such  as tax  revenue,  more  discussion  and negotiation will be needed for both sides to find a solution.

    Chiang described the cross-strait exchanges in the past two years as having only "scratched  the surface  of what we can accomplish  in the end" and as being "a long and winding road."

Slang against Chinese envoy stirs up local political discussion

    Taipei,  Dec.  27 (CNA)  A local  media story quoting  an unnamed Taiwanese official who used a pejorative  to brand Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin  as  a "C-list"  politician  was  incorrect,  a top  Taiwanese negotiator  with  China  said in a hastily  called  press  conference Sunday.

    In a story published  a day earlier by the China Times daily,  an official  of  the  Straits  Exchange  Foundation  (SEF)  --  Taiwan's quasi-official  organization  set up to deal with cross-Taiwan Strait negotiations  --  was quoted  as saying  that the situation  of three Taiwanese political heavyweights  trying to meet with Chen during his five-day visit that concluded  Friday was like "the A-listers  versus the C-listers," with Chen as the "C-list" politician.

    SEF Chairman  Chiang Pin-kung,  who signed three agreements  with Chen the previous week, questioned the authenticity of the story at a press conference, saying the report was not true.

    Major newspapers  and news Web sites in Taiwan  had all dedicated extensive  coverage  to the topic over the past two days.  The story, which described former ruling Kuomintang (KMT)  chairmen Wu Po-hsiung and Lien Chan, and opposition People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong as "A-list  politicians  who were desperately  seeking  to meet with  Chen,  a C-list  official  in China,  " stirred  up a political discussion,  with President  Ma Ying-jeou  saying  that the usage was
"inappropriate and disrespectful."

    Meanwhile, Premier Wu Den-yih told reporters that "the use of the expression  probably needs more contemplation, " while Soong said the statement would "have a negative impact on cross-strait relations."

    Responding  to reporters'  questions,  Mainland  Affairs  Council (MAC)  Chairwoman  Lai Hsin-yuan said that "there is no such thing as A-list or C-list in cross-strait exchanges because the people are the most important factor."

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Chinese envoy concludes Taiwan visit with a no-show

Nantou, central Taiwan Dec. 24 (CNA) A last-minute no-show of a scheduled boat tour around one of Taiwan's most famous lakes and a visit to a Buddhist temple highlighted Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin's last full day of his five-day visit in Taiwan.

Chen Yunlin, President of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) which is in charge of dealing with matters related to Taiwan, did not show up on a scheduled boat tour around the Sun Moon Lake. Instead, Chen met with People First Party Chairman James Soong for about one and a half hours.

Located in the central county of Nantou, the Sun Moon Lake is one of Chinese tourists' favorite spots in Taiwan with its breath-taking scenery and rich indigenous tribal culture.

Chen's no show left around 100 domestic, Chinese and foreign journalists, who were already on boats to cover the event, in awe and confused. They did not have any choice but to follow the boat tour along with Chen's Taiwanese counterpart Chiang Pin-kung, chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), Chiang's wife and Chen's wife.

Chen and his three deputies met with Soong when a large contingent of journalists were stuck on the boat tour. The meeting was not on the itinerary arranged by the SEF. A SEF spokesman said they were not aware of the meeting until moments before the boat tour.

ARATS and the PFP did not disclose what was discussed in the meeting.

The lake tour was highly anticipated as rumors said some legislators from the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and pro-independence supporters have rented boats and were ready to launch a protest on the waters. Falun Gong practitioners also said they would protest.

Hundreds of local police were deployed around the lake to maintain order. A number of divers from Nantou County Fire Department told the CNA that they had carried out underwater patrol in the morning due to security concerns.

At least eight police-rented boats escorted the two-hour boat tour, despite Chen's absence.

Bombarded by protests during the last three days in Taichung City, Thursday was the first day Chen was free of loud noises.

Hundreds of Falun Gong members held banners near the hotel where Chen is staying that could be seen from the boats.

The rumored "DPP boat fleet" never showed up.

On Thursday morning, Chen visited Chung Tai Chan Monastery, one of the largest Buddhism temples in central Taiwan, and an area stricken by Typhoon Morakot in August.

Chen, after inking three deals Tuesday in the fourth round of cross-Strait negotiations with Taiwan, is scheduled to fly back to Beijing Friday morning. A tax deal didn't go through due to lack of consensus from both sides.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Protesters shadow Chinese envoy on tour of central Taiwan

Taichung, Dec. 23 (CNA) Pro-independence protesters continued their efforts Wednesday for the fourth consecutive day to show their opposition to a visit by a Chinese special envoy, as he toured central Taiwan.

In the mountainous county of Miaoli, protesters chanted slogans and held banners and placards before and during the arrival in the area of Chen Yunlin, chairman of China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS).

Chen is on a sightseeing tour, after having completed his main mission in Taiwan -- to sign three accords with his Taiwan counterpart Chiang Pin-kung, chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF).

At the gate of West Lake Resortopia in Miaoli, dozens of protesters chanted slogans, while supporters of Chen's visit responded in kind.

Falun Gong practitioners and pro-independence supporters waited for Chen at his second stop, Wooden Sculpture Museum in Sanyi. On Chen's arrival there, the protesters shouted slogans such as "Taiwan, China -- one country on each side", "Communists, go back (to China) " and "stop suppressing Falun Gong." Chen, surrounded by tight security, appeared unfazed by the protests.

At the day's final stop at Dajia Jenn Lann Temple, one of the most well-known temples in Taiwan dedicated to the sea goddess Matsu, Chen's motorcade was again beleaguered by Falun Gong members and pro-independence supporters. Some 1,000 police and 200-300 volunteers were deployed around the temple to maintain order.

In the morning, three city councilmen from the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) sneaked past security into an alley outside Chen's hotel in Taichung City, where they chanted slogans until the police removed them.

Chen is scheduled to visit Sun Moon Lake, a scenic spot in Nantou County that is popular among Chinese tourists, and is expected to spend the night there before leaving for Beijing Friday.

Falun Gong practitioners said they will stage a protest at Sun Moon Lake as well.

Chen has been bombarded by protests almost everywhere he has gone so far during his five-day visit to Taiwan. An estimated 30,000 protesters marched against his visit and a proposed trade pact on Dec. 20, the day before he arrived in Taiwan.

Since then, smaller protests have been held every day close to the Windsor Hotel where he was staying in Taichung City.

Local groups said before Chen's arrival that they will deploy a "shadow strategy" and follow Chen everywhere he goes.

Policeman injured; six protesters detained

Taichung, Dec. 23 (CNA) A police officer was injured but appeared to be in stable condition and six protesters were detained in an incident Wednesday night in front of the hotel where Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin is staying, Taichung City police said.

It was the first arrest and the most serious injury that occurred since a series of protests were launched Dec. 20 against a five-day visit by Chen, president of the Beijing-based Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits. Chen arrived in the central Taiwan city Monday for the fourth round of cross-strait talks with his Taiwan counterpart, chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation. The talks concluded the previous day with three agreements inked.

Chen Chu-hsiang, a police officer in the Criminal Investigative Corps, sustained an injury to his forehead when he was pushed from a vehicle by protesters as he tried to stop them from launching firecrackers in the direction of the Windsor Hotel, Yu Hui-mao, Deputy Director-General of Taichung City's Police Bureau, said at a press conference.

Six protesters were detained after the incident and are still in custody on charges of endangering public safety, disrupting public service and assault, Yu said. The vehicle carrying the protesters was also seized, he added.

The firecrackers set off by the protesters, who were mostly from the pro-independence group "The Taiwan Republic Campaign, " posed a safety hazard for the hotel and the nearby area, Yu said.

An eye witness among the demonstrators told reporters that more than a dozen police officers jumped on the vehicle to go after the protesters and Chen accidentally fell off the truck onto the ground.

"No one pushed him. I have a video recording to prove that, " said a graduate student who asked not to be named.

The police also videotaped the incident but the footage cannot be made public because the case is now under investigation by local prosecutors, Yu said.

"Our video footage shows that Chen was pushed from the vehicle, " he said.

Yu urged the protesters to express their views in a peaceful manner in order to avoid such incidents.

Failed tax agreement not bad for Taiwan: experts

Taichung, Dec. 23 (CNA) Taiwan's failure to sign a tax agreement with China in just-concluded cross-Taiwan Strait negotiations is not necessarily a bad thing for Taiwan and proves that the deal will have to gain more support before being signed, according to experts.

Representatives from Taiwan and China inked three agreements Tuesday on agricultural inspection and quarantine cooperation, industrial standards testing and certification cooperation, and fishery labor cooperation.

A fourth item on the agenda -- an agreement on the avoidance of double taxation and strengthening of tax cooperation -- was not signed, as the two sides failed to reach consensus, citing "technical issues." The development marked the first time since cross-strait talks resumed last year after a nine-year hiatus that an agreement on the agenda was not signed.

"China never presumes it has to reach concrete results before entering any negotiations, " said Kenneth Lin, an economics professor at National Taiwan University.

Lin said the failure to sign the tax agreement is not necessarily bad for Taiwan because the country in the past has always asked for something solid in negotiations, even though it could end up to be a disadvantage.

"Not being able to sign the agreement... is not necessarily a bad thing for us. We don't have to set a deadline and tie our own hands, " he said.

The technical issues that were said to hamper the bilateral talks, Lin said, could still be political issues rather than tax revenue problems.

Most Taiwanese businessmen investing in China do so through companies in a third country to avoid being taxed, Lin went on, adding that Taiwanese businessmen are mostly concerned that "China has been using tax inspections as tool to pester Taiwanese businesses in China." Tax agreements are usually signed between allies, friendly countries or countries at similar levels of economic development, but that is not the case between Taiwan and China, Lin said.

"I would say that the key here is not tax issues but political issues, such as the wording of the document, " he said.

"At the end of the day, a government has to protect its own taxpayers, " Lin noted.

However, other experts looked at the negotiations, which took place in the central Taiwan city of Taichung from Dec. 21-23, in a different light.

Yin Nai-ping, a finance professor at National Chengchi University, said the "technical issues" that doomed the tax talks were related to the avoidance of double taxation.

"I believe that Taiwan made the request to include Taiwanese businesses investing indirectly in China through a third country on the double taxation list in the negotiations, but China refused to accept this, " Yin said.

Yin said the sovereignty issue is not as serious as it might seem and that "the real problem is the sophisticated tax regulations." Taiwan's opposition parties have questioned whether taxpayers' information could end up in the hands of the Chinese authorities once an agreement on tax cooperation takes effect, which raised concern among local businessmen, Yin said.

"I think the widespread uneasiness over the issue made Taiwanese officials particularly cautious in the talks, " he added.

It is only natural to differ in the process of negotiations and "the most important thing is to identify the argument and ultimately work out a solution that both sides can accept, " Yin said.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

MAC lauds results of cross-strait talks as fruitful

Taichung, Dec. 22 (CNA) Taiwan's top China affairs official on Tuesday lauded the results of the fourth round of negotiation between Taiwan and China as fruitful and said she envisions better bilateral relations.

Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Chairwoman Lai Shin-yuan addressed the Chinese delegation after Chiang Pin-kung and Chen Yunlin, heads of designated organizations that deal with cross-Taiwan Strait matter s in the absence of formal ties, signed three of four agreements on the meeting's agenda.

"In order for both sides of the strait to avoid war, pursue peace and establish a stable environment for exchanges, we have to resolutely take a path of institutionalized negotiations, which is the right one for cross-strait relations," Lai said.

The three agreements were on cooperation on the inspection and quarantine of agricultural products, standards testing and certification cooperation, and fishery labor cooperation.

An agreement on the avoidance of double taxation and strengthening of tax cooperation was not signed as both sides failed to reach consensus, citing "technical issues." The MAC chairwoman said that the agreements reached in the four rounds of talks so far have ensured an orderly and systematic progression of bilateral exchanges and that the unsigned agreement signified an institutionalized and mature negotiation process.

Views on cross-strait relations in Taiwan have been polarized and the Chinese might be confused at Taiwan's hesitance and unease despite China's goodwill and its arrangements, Lai acknowledged.

"But this is the norm in a diverse society and a fact that both sides need to deal with carefully," she advised.

The most important factor in cross-strait talks, she stressed, is gaining the support of the people because Taiwan, with a democratic government, has to listen to the people, respect them and respond swiftly.

The development of "peaceful and stable cross-strait relations can only go as far as people's support takes us," she said.

Taichung residents cold-shoulder protests against China-Taiwan talks

Taichung, Dec. 22 (CNA) Some residents in central Taiwan's Taichung City, where the latest round of China-Taiwan talks are being held, were indifferent toward the ongoing protests against a visit by a top Chinese envoy and a proposed free-trade pact between the two sides.

Tens of thousands of people marched on the streets and rallied on Sunday ahead of the Chinese negotiator Chen Yunlin's visit in a protest organized by the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Since Chen's arrival on Monday, hundreds of people have demonstrated each day outside the hotel where he is staying.

The protesters are against the government's plans to sign the trade agreement -- known as the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA). They said they fear it could flood the island with cheaper Chinese products, shut down small and medium-size enterprises , cost jobs, and jeopardize Taiwan's sovereignty in the long run by making it too economically reliant on China.

But some local residents in Taichung said they disagreed with the protesters.

"No matter what they (the protesters) do, the government is still going to sign (the ECFA) anyway, " said a cab driver surnamed Yang.

"I say let President (Ma Ying-jeou) do his things. If you're not happy with his performance, don't vote for him in the next election. It's that simple, " Yang said, adding that business in Taichung was not good in the past few days because of the protest and traffic controls.

Another resident said Taiwan will be better off signing the agreement with China.

"Not signing the agreement means certain death, but signing the agreement does not necessary mean death," said the resident, also surnamed Yang. "Taiwan is a small island and China is so economically powerful. The protesters are stupid. Our economy will improve as long as we have good economic cooperation with China." He said he does not believe Taiwan's sovereignty would be jeopardized.

"I don't think China is going to come in here and tell us what to do," he said.

In Sunday's two-hour parade during which organizers shouted out the damage they believe the economic agreement will cause through a large loudspeaker, onlookers by the roads barely took notice of the protesters as most people chose to keep doing what they were doing.

Despite the lukewarm response, a DPP local representative Chen Da-chun said Taichung City citizens have been very active in the protest.

After Sunday's massive rally, smaller scale protests have been staged on Monday and Tuesday. Pro-Taiwan independence supporters held a sit-in in a vacant lot across the hotel Chen Yunlin is staying.

Falungong practitioners lined the streets outside the hotel, holding signs and banners to oppose China's persecution against the spiritual group.

While the Falungong protesters have made little noise, other groups have used bullhorns, gas horns and loud speakers to make their views heard.

A motorcade parade organized by a local branch office of the DPP roamed through Taichung City Tuesday blaring anti-China and anti- trade pact messages on loud speakers.

Some local councilmen tried to enter the restricted area around the hotel at night. This was widely seen as a self-promotional tactic for the upcoming elections in five metropolitans in Taiwan, inclding Taichung.

However, the protests during Chen's visit this year appeared to be different from those during his visit last year. Local pro-independence groups and the DPP, traditional partners which formed a united front, appeared to have different mindset this time.

Local groups said they feel that the DPP has intentionally kept a distance from them because of what happened last year when some protesters clashed with the police in violent protests that happened during that round of talks held in Taipei.

DPP officials have said they do not condone violence and wanted to avoid a repeat of last year's clashes, for which it was criticized.

In the march on Sunday, the DPP and its supporters marched down one route, while the pro-independence groups went down the other, before joining for a final rally.

"It's obvious that the DPP is intentionally alienating local groups this time over fears of things getting out of hand, " said Tsai Ting-kuei, Convener of Alliance of Referendum for Taiwan, one of the groups.

Taiwan's government said signing the economic agreement with China will boost the island's economic growth by 1.65 percent to 1.

72 percent and create more job opportunities.

The government has also said Taiwan will enjoy tariff-free trade with China and greater access to the Chinese market. If it does not sign the agreement, it could lose out to China's other trade partners which will ink free-trade agreements with China, according to government officials.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Silent protest in Taichung hopes to be the loudest

Taichung, Dec. 21 (CNA) When the motorcade carrying Chen Yunlin, China's top negotiator with Taiwan, arrived at a Taichung hotel Monday, he was welcomed by loud air horns and chants of "Taiwan, China -- one nation on each side." What he did not hear but could definitely see were numerous banners held high by Falun Gong practitioners, who comprised the bulk of the protesters kept at a distance by barricades.

Falun Gong is a system of spiritual beliefs and practices founded in China by Li Hongzhi in 1992. Before it was banned in China, there were 70 million to 100 million practitioners in China, according to the group's Web site.

"This is not really a protest. We're here to voice our opinion and express our views that Falun Gong practitioners are still being suppressed in China. And it's a wrong thing to do, " said a protest leader surnamed Chen.

Mr. Chen was among around 1,000 Falun Gong members who were scattered around different intersections and open areas surrounding the Windsor Hotel where Chen Yunlin is staying.

Coming from different parts of Taiwan, the Falun Gong demonstrators were easily differentiated from the so-called "political protesters", who can be identified by their loud chants.

"We probably don't say much publicly, but our determination is strong, " the Falun Gong's Chen said.

The group remained silent for much of the day, standing roadside and holding banners up to 10 meters long reading "Stop suppressing Falun Gong, " "The world needs truthfulness, compassion and forbearance" and "High-ranking Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials were prosecuted by a Spanish judge." A huge balloon also flew outside the hotel with an attached banner saying "stop suppressing Falun Gong." On Nov. 18, a Spanish judge indicted five high-ranking CCP officials for their role in crimes of torture and genocide committed against Falun Gong practitioners.

Among the defendants is former Communist Party boss Jiang Zemin, widely acknowledged as the chief instigator of the campaign.

On Dec. 17, an Argentine judge indicted and ordered the local Interpol branch to seek the arrest of two high-ranking CCP officials -- Jiang and Luo Gan -- for crimes against humanity committed against Falun Gong practitioners.

"We were always peaceful in expressing our views. With our fellow practitioners still being suppressed in China, the cases in Spain and Argentina and the arrival of Chen Yunlin, we feel that this is a good time to get our messages out, " the Falun Gong's Chen said.

Hundreds of Falun Gong members practiced their rituals in a lot located across the Windsor Hotel on Monday. Chen said they will remain there for 72 consecutive hours.

Falun Gong members will also gather at Sun Moon Lake, a well-known scenic spot in the central Nantou County especially popular with Chinese tourists, when the Chinese negotiator visits there Thursday, Chen said.

The Falun Gong spokesman also noted that the police have been friendly to its group of demonstrators, Chen noted.

"They still asked a lot of questions, but that's their job. I understand that, " he said, observing that the Falun Gong has seemingly become a sensitive issue for the government because China is not happy with the group.

Taiwan's government should do more to support the group and condemn China's persecution, said a practitioner surnamed Liao, who preferred not to reveal her full name.

Liao said she has been hoping for more support from the government, particularly from President Ma Ying-jeou, who according to Liao never hesitated to show his support for the group in the past but had failed to do so since assuming office as president.

"I thought this is a human rights issue and President Ma always advocated human rights as a universal value, didn't he? On top of that, he signed two United Nations human rights conventions this past year. Honestly, I'm disappointed with him, " Liao lamented.

The Falun Gong Web site says that more than 3,300 practitioners are confirmed to have died in China as a result of abuse in police custody or other forms of persecution since 1999.

According to the U.S. State Department, there are 600,000 Falun Gong practitioners in Taiwan, making it the largest contingent of practitioners outside of China.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Tens of thousands march to protest trade pact with China

Taichung, Taiwan, Dec. 20 (CNA) Tens of thousands of Taiwanese marched in the central Taiwan city of Taichung to protest the government's plan to sign an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China.

The rally took place one day before Chen Yunlin, chairman of China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) , arrives here to sign four economic agreements with his Taiwan counterpart Chiang Pin-kung, the chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), but the ECFA is not on the meeting's formal agenda.

The opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and local civic groups said the purpose of the protest was to call attention to the poor overall performance of President Ma Ying-jeou's administration and the lack of transparency in its negotiations on the ECFA with China.

Braving strong winds in temperatures of around 10 degrees Celsius, pro-independence protesters from across the country assembled in downtown Taichung for the rally after marching in two separate legs in the city.

"Taiwan is facing three problems. The first problem is Ma, the second problem is Ma. The third problem is still Ma, " DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen told the crowd.

Polls show that the president is leading Taiwan to unification (with China), she said, adding that "the biggest problem is that we have a president who is only focused on unifying with China." Tsai said people gathered because no one knows what the president is doing, especially on the ECFA, which Ma argues Taiwan must sign or it will be marginalized.

The ECFA is expected to be included in the next round of talks between both sides, which is scheduled to take place in the first half of 2010 in China.

Tsai accused Ma of never explaining the ECFA clearly and of refusing to communicate with the people, the Legislative Yuan or the opposition on its contents.

The only beneficiaries from the ECFA are big corporations, while many ordinary people will lose their jobs because of it, Tsai contended, adding that the president has never disclosed its potential adverse impact on Taiwan's people.

An economic model run by the Ministry of Economic Affairs found that Taiwan would gain a net 260,000 jobs if an ECFA was signed, while the Council of Labor Affairs estimated it would create a net 105,000 to 125,000 jobs.

Both models acknowledged, however, that some workers in vulnerable industries could lose their jobs.

Almost all the DPP heavyweights showed up and spoke to the gathered crowd.

"If Taiwan signs the ECFA with China, President Ma should also ask China to help Taiwan sign FTAs with other countries, such as Japan and South Korea, so Taiwan will be able to trade with others as well, " said former Vice President Annette Lu.

In the days leading up to Sunday's protest rally, the DPP said it hoped to mobilize 100,000 people, and the party estimated after the event that the turnout had surpassed its goal. The Taichung City government, on the other hand, put the turnout at 31,000.

Fears that clashes would break out never materialized. Taichung City government spokesperson Tsou Mei-liang earlier said that no confrontations took place Sunday, and it was not a surprise since "the protest was legally applied for and all arrangements had been implemented beforehand." Prior to the main rally, the protesters marched for more than two hours in Taichung's streets, and made the most noise when they walked past the Windsor Hotel, where Chen will stay during his five-day stay, to express their displeasure over the Chinese negotiator's visit.

The crowds chanted slogans such as "Taiwan and China; one country on each side" as they marched, while others expressed their views in more colorful ways.

A senior citizen from Chiayi City showed everyone a picture of Ma wearing only a swimming suit and said "this is all he does -- swim." A protester surnamed Hsu, who came from the southern city of Tainan complained not only about the government's China policy but also security precautions taken for Chen's visit.

"We don't want a trade agreement with China. And all these barricades, security deployments and traffic controls for a Chinese representative are outrageous. The Taichung City police should remove them all."

Friday, December 18, 2009

Fourth round of Chiang-Chen talks to take place next week

    Taipei,   Dec.  18  (CNA)  Representatives  of  Taiwan's  Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and the Beijing-based Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) will open their fourth round of talks in Taichung Monday, a day after the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) launches a large-scale protest.

    Led by Taiwan's chief negotiator SEF Chairman Chiang Pin-kung and his Chinese counterpart, ARATS President  Chen Yunlin, the negotiations are expected to result in agreements on fishing crew cooperation, agricultural quarantine inspection, industrial product standards, inspection and certification, and the avoidance of double taxation.

    Both SEF and ARATS are quasi-official organizations designated by the governments of Taiwan and China, respectively,  to handle cross-strait dealings in the absence of official contacts between the two sides.

    The three-day meeting,  from Dec.  21-23,  represents  the fourth round  of the biannual  talks over the past two years  since  the two organizations  resumed  discussions  in  June  2008  after  a 13-year hiatus, ending years of tension.

    In a press briefing  on Thursday,  SEF Chairman  Chiang said that the nine  agreements  reached  during  the  past  three  rounds  have benefited Taiwanese businesses by helping them reduce their operating expenses and improving efficiency.

    He  suggested  that  a proposed  economic  cooperation  framework agreement  (ECFA) ,  which aims to normalize  trade  between  the two countries  and eventually  lead to the reduction  of tariff barriers, will be on the agenda of the next round of talks,  which will be held in China.

    Meanwhile,  the opposition  DPP and more than 10 civil groups are expected to hold a major protest against the ECFA,  even though it is not on the agenda of this round of talks.

    Lo Chih-cheng,  secretary-general  of the Taiwan Society,  one of the civil groups to participate in the Sunday protest, said his group was against  the lack  of transparency  in the ECFA negotiations  and advocated holding a referendum  on the proposed trade pact before the start of the negotiation process.

    Other smaller scale protests  are expected  to be held throughout Chen's stay in Taiwan.

    Chiang  as host of this round of talks,  called on the protesters to be peaceful, rational and law-abiding.

    The  DPP hopes  to mobilize  100,000  demonstrators  for Sunday's rally,  while  the Ministry  of the Interior  plans  to mobilize  200 police  officers  to patrol the negotiating  venue in Taichung  and a total of 1,000 to share the task of providing  security for Chen when he travels outside the venue,  according  to Interior Minister  Jiang Yi-huah.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Trusted Ma adviser becomes secretary general of ruling party

    Taipei,   Dec.  16  (CNA)  Taiwan's  President  Ma  Ying-jeou  on Wednesday swore in his long-time trusted adviser to a leading post as secretary-general  of the ruling Kuomintang  (KMT)  party,  in a move widely seen as an attempt by Ma to gear up for reelection in 2012.

    King  Pu-tsung,  considered  the brains  behind  Ma's  successful presidential campaign which helped him get elected in 2008, flew back to Taiwan Wednesday,  cutting short his visiting  scholar post in the United States,  and was sworn in almost immediately  as the KMT's new secretary general.

    He gave few clues about what his top priorities  are on his first day on the job, but promised to "less talk and more action" and carry out various  party reform plans that are underway,  saying he will be the one who is responsible for reforming the 115-year-old party.

    "My job is the (KMT's)  chief executive officer,  therefore  I am the one to be held accountable if things fail,  " the close confidant of Ma said  in the first  press  conference  he gave  after  assuming office.

    Ma has been keen to rid the party of corruption  and clean up its image,  but observers  said  that  would  not be the only reason  the president  sought  King's help.  

    King's  appointment  comes  just  days  after  Ma's ruling  party suffered a setback in the Dec. 5 county and city elections, winning a smaller  percentage  of overall  votes than it did in local elections four years ago. The election results were widely seen as a warning to the party, especially with the presidential race just two years away.

    King  served  as the main  campaign  manager  in Ma's two mayoral elections  and the 2008 presidential  election.  He was lured back to Taiwan  halfway  through  his  visiting   scholar  program  with  the Washington-based  Brookings  Institution.  

    His main tasks now are believed  to be helping  the ruling  party win four upcoming  elections  in the next  12 months,  reversing  the party's long standing culture of vote-buying and handling its assets.

    King said all of these tasks will not be easy, and he will not be able to do it alone without teamwork. 

    Nicknamed "the Switchblade, " and "loner" King, an avid Triathlon runner,  has built a reputation  in Taiwanese politics over the years as someone who is good at political maneuvering.

    But King  presented  a different  image  at the press  conference Wednesday. He said that if he could be good at one thing, he wants to change  the polarization  in Taiwanese  politics  and make  the KMT's battle  with the opposition  Democratic  Progressive  party (DPP)  "a healthy competition".

    He also envisioned  the party  being "accepted  and embraced"  by younger generations of Taiwanese people.

    "I want to make the KMT a better party," King said.

    King  told  the  media  his first  move  will  be visiting  local counties  and cities,  especially  those the KMT had lost in previous elections and the ones which will hold legislative by-elections  next month.

    He did not rule out the possibility  of carrying  out a personnel reshuffle  in the KMT,  saying  that "of course  we'll make personnel changes."

    Whatever he does, he is expected to enjoy the backing of the president, who also serves as the KMT's chairman and handpicked King as his right hand man.

    With King's help, Ma has never lost an election.

    Now,  many political analysts and ordinary Taiwanese  people will be watching to see if King can again deliver an election  victory for the president,  whose approval  ratings have taken a beating from the recession,  public criticisms  over his administration's  handling of Typhoon  Morakot,   and  criticisms   over  his  proposed  free-trade agreement with China.