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Interview with Taiwan's Preisdent

Aired April 30, 2010 - 19:30:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Tonight Taiwan looks to smooth the waters that divide it from China. We have an exclusive interview with Taiwanese president Ma Yin-Jou. Good evening everyone and welcome to our program. I'm Christiana Amanpour. Tonight we look at a potential sea of change underway in Taiwan the 6th decade since the Communist took power in China and the Nationalists forces of Chang Kai-Shek fled to Taiwan, Taipei and Bejing have been on the brink of war. Chinese missiles pointing towards the island and the U.S. assures to defend Taiwan, have made it a global flashpoint. But Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou is trying what he calls "flexible diplomacy" with China and now trade and investment are flowing between the island and the mainland. But in Taiwan itself support for the president's policies has been flagging because many there are wary of getting too close to Bejing. To discuss what he's called a historic juncture with China, Taiwan's President, Mai Ying-jeou, joined us earlier from Taipei for this exclusive interview.

Thank you so much indeed for joining us Mr. President.


AMANPOUR: Let me get straight down to brass tacks. There are many in Taiwan who worry that you are not pro-independence. That you have not said once after getting elected, that Taiwan is about having an independent nation.

MA: Well the Republic of China on Taiwan has been independent sovereign state for 99 years. There is no reason to declare independence twice.

AMANPOUR: Well clearly Mr. President a lot of Taiwanese expect to hear it from you or at least to hear a stronger explanation of why you don't say that. And there are many Taiwanese who say that they're concerned that you are perhaps compromising Taiwan's sovereignty in order to be in the good graces of China. How do you answer that to your people?

MA: All these accusations are ungrounded. In the last two years we have concluded 12 agreements with men in China on cross [reflights], food safety, opening Taiwan to [inaudible] and tourists and to neutral judicial assistance. In all this agreements, we not only build friendship but solve many problems that were brought to Taiwan as a result of a fast growing trade and investment relations with the Chinese mainland. All these agreements contribute to prosperity and stability in Taiwan and nothing in this agreement compromised Taiwan's sovereignty or autonomy.

AMANPOUR: Well than how do you --

MA: And all this agreements are an open documents.

AMANPOUR: Well I just wanted to say if that's the case, how do you explain your rather low approval ratings? I mean even after your latest debate, they're not up to even 40%. About 38% according to polls support you, some 43% say they are dissatisfied. How do you explain that?

MA: Well our economy is recovering. But it has not recovered to the stage before the financial tsunami resulted from the US economy. So we are trying to do more and this year International Monetary Fund has forecast that we will have 6.5 percent growth in our GDP. So I'm sure when our economy becomes better, the situation will improve as a result.

AMANPOUR: One of those issues that you hope will show results, tangible results, is a new agreement that you hope to sign with the China, ECFA and yet your people are saying that they don't understand it and they think that that will make you too reliant on mainland China. How are you explaining it to them?

MA: Well the name of the agreements, Economic Corporation Framework Agreement, this is, actually has three parts. Tariff reduction, investment guarantee and protection of intellectual property rights. When I explain to people, people understand. Actually after the Sunday debate with the opposition leader, the people who understand and support ECFA has increased much more than it was before. So I am very confident that when we continue to explain what it is, in the future people will support our policy. And this policy will be very beneficial to Taiwan. Not only to increase export, but to attract more foreign direct investment from abroad.

AMANPOUR: Could I just, I want to put up a graphic, a quote, of what the President of China, Hu Jintao, has said after your election. He called on China and Taiwan to quote "Build mutual trust. Lay aside disputes, seek consensus and shelve differences and create a win-win situation. Do you agree with that and how will you do that beyond ECFA?

MA: In addition to economic relations, we also want to promote cultural exchange with the mainland. For instance, we have already allow hundreds of thousands of [inaudible] tourists to Taiwan and they will appreciate. Actually they do appreciate the way of life in Taiwan, freedom, democracy and prosperity.

AMNPOUR: And so on what, under what conditions would you agree to meet with the president of China?

MA: I have no plan at the moment to meet with leaders form mainland China. I think the most important thing for Taiwan and for mainland China to do is to start with economic agreements, cultural exchange, educational exchange, to lay the groundwork for further relations. I think it is too premature for the top leaders of the two sides to meet at this moment.

AMANPOUR: So many have sort of positive floated the idea that perhaps you would accept an invitation to the APEC summit that's hosted by the United States next year. Apparently it's going to be in Hawaii. Would you accept such an invitation? Obviously at that place so would the president of China be there.

MA: This is a hypothetical situation proposed by an American scholar. We haven't gotten any information from the authorities of APEC on this issue.

AMANPOUR: But do you think that between now and then if you were offered a formal invitation and as you say you would need more details about such an invitation, is it something that you would consider? Would you accept such an invitation to APEC?

MA: As I've said this is really very hypothetical because in the past we have been unable to send high level representative to this APEC meeting. I don't see any possibility in the near future that the situation would change.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about a future political situation if you like. What Is your view and your position on the possibility of one nation two systems? For instance as China and Hong Kong have? Would that work for China and Taiwan?

MA: No, I don't think that is a good formula for Taiwan because Taiwan is very different from Hong Kong. Taiwan is a democracy. We elect our own president, our own national parliament and we run our own business. We want to have closer trade and investment relation with the mainland but certainly we want to have our own way of life. So when I was inaugurated nearly two years ago, I have said very clearly that we will maintain the status quo, namely no unification, no independence, no use of force under the framework of our 1946 constitution.

AMANPOUR: Yes and as you know many people around the world look at China, including here in the United States, and see a growing power house, an economic power house, a political power house. Some are concerned about its growing military capabilities. Do you consider China to be a growing military threat especially with its continued spending?

MA: Well mainland China has been an [inuadible] threat to Taiwan for 60 years. The reason we decided to improve relations with mainland China is to try to reduce the tension across Taiwan Strait by means other than military. And as far as we are concerned, in the last two years we have been able to ease that tension and make the region much more peaceful than it was before. So I think it is very important to ease the tension, to reduce the atmosphere of hostilities but the way of doing that is not necessary to engage in arms race. I think we have other ways to reduce the tension and we have done it actually.

AMANPOUR: And when we return I will ask President Ma to respond to some American concerns that Taiwan may no longer be worth potential conflict with China. And before we go to break, check out this recent poll of how residents of Taiwan see themselves as Chinese, Taiwanese or both.

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PRESIDENT BARAK OBAMA: My administration fully supports a one China policy as reflected in the free joint ]'inaudible] that has dated back several decades in terms of our relations with Taiwan as well as our relations with the people form the Republic of China. We don't want to change that policy and that approach.

AMANPOUR: That was US President Barak Obama speaking to students in Shanghai last November. As we continue our discussion with President Ma, we asked him which power is rising in the east. I wanted to carry on this conversation with the US-Taiwan relationship but of course the US-China relationship, many have thought over the past years and decade that this is the issue that would cause a conflict or could cause a conflict between China and the United States. Do you think that that is still a realistic concern?

MA: Well yes it is a real concern but it was a concern. In the last two years what we did in improving relations with the Chinese mainland has already diffuse that tension. In other words we have been able to reach many agreements with the mainland to effect more extensive trade investment and cultural exchange. So the tension across Taiwan Strait which used to be a flash point in East Asia, now is a place of peace and prosperity. So the relationship among mainland China, the United States and Taiwan has been the best in 60 years.

AMAPOUR: Well on that note you were talking before we went to a break with the need to sort of de-escalate any notion of an arms race. And of course, recently it was announced more than 6 billions of arms from the United States to Taiwan and that obviously caused a fairly stiff response in Beijing and I want to play you what the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said about that.

The US conduct severely harms China's core interest and China-US ties. The cooperation between China and the United States on international and regional issues will be unavoidably affected. The United States bears the entire responsibility. So President Ma, that is the view from Beijing and I raise that because it's also an increasing question in the United States. I want to read for you what a former US official has said about the relationship. This is David Rockoff (ph) in Foreign Policy magazine earlier this year saying that Taiwan is small. It offers us very little in the way of true strategic advantages. In the final analysis it really is China's for the taking. And it is certainly not worth going to war for regardless of what US rhetoric has been for decades. What is your response to that?

MA: Well we didn't ask the US to get involved in the warfare with mainland China. We are only seeking procurements of arms of a defensive character. Actually what the US did was in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act which is a federal law of the United States. And we need those weapons of a defensive nature to defend Taiwan's democracy and this is actually not only in interest of Taiwan but also in interest of United States. The view of American scholar does not reflect the view of the administration.

AMANPOUR: And yet many Americans are saying, you know is it really worth given how extended America is in Iraq, in Afghanistan and fighting terrorism. Is it worth the risk of going to war on behalf of Taiwan? So again, the question that I wanted to ask you is, what do you think would happen if the US started to reduce arms sales to Taiwan in order to improve relations with China? And that's your goal too to improve relations with China?

MA: Well if the US reduce arms sales to Taiwan below the current level, it will reduce confidence in this part of the world. Taiwan needs the arms to defend its country and its democracy and but in the last two years as a result of our efforts to improve relations with the Chinese mainland, we have already defused the tension to a great extent and this is more important then the reduce of arms. Actually the supply of arms by the United States to Taiwan increased Taiwan's confidence and sense of security particularly when Taiwan engaged the Chinese mainland in talks on trade and other matters. Taiwan wants to negotiate from a position of friend [inaudible]. So that is why Washington understands very well that arm sales will help keep regional peace rather then the other way around.

AMANPOUR: Obviously you've spoken about the Chinese missiles pointed towards Taiwan but let me ask you a quick response if you can, to the question that's sometimes posed here, why should Americans risk so much on behalf of Taiwan?

MA: Well as I've said, at the moment the risk for the United States is the lowest in 60 years. In the past, actual the risk was much higher but as a result of our efforts to have [inaudible] with the Chinese mainland, the tension has been greatly reduced. That is why the current administration, like previous administrations, is very pleased what happen in the last two year and we will continue to reduce the risk so that we will purchase arms from the United States but we will never ask the American to fight for Taiwan. This is something that is very, very clear.

AMANPOUR: Well let's talk about another issue of contention between China and it's, China and the world really, and that is Tibet. Do you think the issue of Tibet autonomy there and the issue of the Dali Lama receives or should receive more or less attention from the United States?

MA: It is also the policy of my administration to support autonomy for Tibet and we also support the talks between Dali Lama and the mainland Chinese authorities. I think that is the only way to find a solution to their problems.

AMANPOUR: And regarding, you know, internet freedoms and other such issues in civil society, is that something that worries you about the policies of Beijing. You've seen the latest crisis between let's say Google and the authorities in China?

MA: Yes I think in some of this issues we do express our opinion on this issues not only on human rights but also on other freedoms because we are located very close to mainland China. Obviously we are also concerned with issues in this regard. And on many occasions we have expressed our concerns on human rights issues on mainland.

AMANPOUR: And in terms of the sort of dominant powerhouse in Asia, right now of course the United States has a huge amount of diplomatic, economic and military power. When you look ahead, do you think the US will maintain that role in Asia, it's lead there or will China take over?

MA: I think at the moment, US plays certainly a bigger role and but I think in the future the situation might change as a result of a [inaudible]. That is why I think the countries in the region should work together to reduce tension and to increase civility and peace.

AMANPOUR: On that note, President Ma Yin-Jou, thank you so much for joining us on this program.

Ying-jeou: Thank you Ms. Amanpour.

AMANPOUR: I also asked President Ma if he would ever use social media to communicate with Chinese people across the Taiwan Strait. See what he said about that and other issues at our website And next we will have our final postscript and some parting thoughts.

Backstory pushes the boundary on what you've seen in other places. You've got to [inaudible] the shooter, you're going to see the producer, you're going to see the untidiness of it all. You can also see what perhaps the crew went through to get this. Well we get the reporter to perhaps tell us how it was for them as [inaudible] as well those viewers, reported to the people too. I think it gives people another [inaudible] in television, demystifies this business of ours in a way.

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AMANPOUR: This is our final broadcast and I want to say what a privilege it has been to be at CNN for the past 27 years. To have had the opportunity to report the news to you all over the world from all over the world. I've tried to be your eyes and ears in pursuit of the truth and the stories that beg to be told. That's been my mission in the field and here in the studio. My team and I would like to say thank you and we'd like to leave you with some moments that we'll never forget.

You heard what Archibishop Desmond Tutu said?

That's nonsense, it's just devilish talk.

AMANPOUR: Devilish talk?


AMANPOUR: Do you, do you -

He doesn't know what he's talking about, [inaudible]

AMANPOUR: This is being called the biggest land grab since Columbus. There is a senior Ayatollah basically praising the execution of people.

No one is compelling that military government to court martial all of those who rapes women publicly in the street.

AMANPOUR: This is about Congo. Africa's world war. Millions of people have been killed there and many say that Paul Kagame's troops bear a lot of the responsibility.

The problem was [inaudible] born.

You've got to negotiate form the top down, build from the bottom up.

AMANPOUR: Do you accept that there needs to be change from you?

HAMID KARZA, AFGHANISTAN PRESIDENT: Afghanistan is our country. I firmly believe it can be turned around, absolutely.

The momentum is in the minds of people.

We should not waste even a single dollar, single item of [inaudible]

It's not enough to get children interested, it's what they get out of school.

AMANPOUR: You said that you didn't have a condom but that you showered after sex. I mean what kind of message is that?

So the shower was part of a series of answers to specific questions.

AMANPOUR: Are you worried that if you leave Israel and come to London or other such places in Europe, that you could be arrested?

It's not my role [inaudible] personal basis.

AMANPOUR: Is this another secret Mossad operation?

I've nothing to say about this [inaudible] in Dubai.

AMANPOUR: Are you saying there is no chance that Sudan will comply with the ICC warrant.

Never. That would never happen.

There is another launch.

AMANPOUR: More journalists have been killed or wounded covering the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.

We must do something to stop the blood shed in that country.

AMANPOUR: And do not think that the constant flip-flops of your administration on the issue of Bosnia, that it's a very dangerous precedent?

There have been no constant flip-flops Madam.

AMANPOUR: I saw Sadam Hussein come into the [inaudible]. Christiane Amanpour, CNN with elements of the Galilee division. It's [inaudible] Israel.

AMANPOUR: So thank you CNN for the honor to serve. And thank you all for watching. I want to leave you now with the names of the fantastic crew that has made this show possible. For all of us here good bye from New York