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Taiwan president's China peace plan triggers fury
by Staff Writers
Taipei (AFP) Oct 23, 2011

A call by Taiwan's president for a peace treaty with China, made as he campaigns for re-election, has drawn a stormy response and may fail to either win votes or curry favour with Beijing, analysts say.

President Ma Ying-jeou, who is seeking a second term in January polls, created shockwaves when he said a week ago that the island should consider a treaty to formally end a civil war that in reality has been over since 1949.

The high-risk strategy, which critics slammed as "surrender and unification" in disguise, already looks to have backfired, illustrating Ma's dilemma in trying to push a Beijing-friendly agenda without alienating domestic opinion.

"He unnecessarily creates suspicion about what he wants and gives the opposition a chance to accuse him of selling out Taiwan," said George Tsai, a political scientist at the Chinese Culture University in Taipei.

Taiwan, an island just off China that is home to 23 million people, has governed itself for more than 60 years but Beijing claims sovereignty over it and has never ruled out the use of force to bring about unification.

Ma may have believed the idea of a peace treaty within the next decade would help win over voters pining for a future liberated from the fear of sudden aggression from across the narrow Taiwan Straits.

But concerns in Taiwan that a peace pact could pull the island irredeemably into Beijing's sphere of influence may force him to attach so many conditions to the agreement that the Chinese authorities will lose interest.

The non-partisan Apple Daily newspaper predicted that the peace treaty will "define" the January 14 presidential elections.

"The risk associated with a political agreement is too high and the impact too huge," it said in a commentary.

"Voters should vote for Ma if they think Taiwan should enter political negotiations with China. They should not vote for him if they think it is too rash or too risky, because he will do it in his second term."

Ma has repeatedly sought to assure voters in recent days, first saying a peace pact is not tantamount to a unification treaty and emphasising it would only be signed if it was approved by the people in a referendum.

He was elected in 2008 on a platform of boosting the economy, and his first term has been focused on economic exchanges with China, based on the philosophy that trade and investment are less contentious issues than political talks.

But speculation has been ripe that he would enter into more dangerous political territory in a second term as he seeks to establish his legacy, and a peace treaty may be considered the least risky way of doing that.

Even so, some analysts caution that the issue might not do him much good in the tight race against Tsai Ing-wen of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which favours independence from China.

Taiwan's opposition has reacted furiously to the peace treaty, accusing Ma of leading the island down the road to reunification with the mainland.

"He is risking our country's future for the sake of his campaign and pushing Taiwanese people into political danger," DPP's Tsai said. "We urge Ma to notice that this proposal will hurt Taiwan's sovereignty and interests."

While Taiwan's opposition has been boiling with anger, Beijing has been lukewarm, with Chen Yunlin, China's top negotiator on Taiwan, saying the two sides should concentrate on economic links.

"Peaceful development of ties is the joint hope of people on both sides. We need to focus on the economy first and the politics later to build on mutual trust," Chen said in footage aired by Taiwanese news channels.

Observers have seen a peace treaty as a remote prospect because it would involve difficult questions such as who should sign the agreement on either side and complex sovereignty issues.

Analysts say the status quo is the preferred option for China's Communist rulers, who while resisting Taiwanese independence fear early unification with the democratic island would be a severe challenge to their one-party control.

China claims sovereignty over Taiwan even though the island has ruled itself since the de facto end of the civil war 62 years ago, when Chinese nationalists, beaten by the communists, fled across the Taiwan Straits.

"A peace treaty is a valid issue but I don't think Ma is ready for it yet as he is backtracking after the criticism from the opposition," Wu'er Kaixi, a former leader of the 1989 Tiananmen protests, told AFP.

"There's only a very slim chance that the peace treaty with China will be signed as it might change the status quo and not be in China's political interests," said Wu'er, now a political commentator based in Taipei.

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Referendum a must for China treaty: Taiwan leader
Taipei (AFP) Oct 20, 2011
Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou Thursday moved to reassure voters over his proposals for a peace treaty with China, saying it would only be signed if it was first approved in a referendum. Reactions were mixed after Ma on Monday suggested the island should consider a peace treaty with China within the coming decade, formally ending a civil war that has actually been over since 1949. It is ... read more

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