President Ma Ying-jeou was joined by Vice President Vincent C. Siew in a press conference at the Presidential Office on the morning of May 19 to mark the two-year anniversary of their inauguration. Also attending the event were Premier Wu Den-yih, Presidential Secretary-General Liouyi Liao, and Presidential Deputy Secretaries-General Kao Lang and Lai Feng-wei.
In an address to the gathering, President Ma noted that today marks the eve of his second anniversary in office. He said he recalled how deeply he felt the weight of responsibility two years ago as he prepared to become the head of state. He said that today he would like to share his journey with the people of the nation and report on the work he and his government have carried out over this period.
The first point stressed by the president is that “change has begun.” The first change, he said, has been an insistence on clean government and rule of law. Before he assumed office, said the president, some high ranking government officials and their family members engaged in corruption, interfered in private-sector activities, and meddled in personnel appointments and dismissals, but the current administration has sought to eliminate such practices. President Ma said that his government has made every effort to abide by the rule of law and achieve clean government, adding that he hopes that the situation seen previously will not recur.
He next discussed his commitment to preventing abuse of power. President Ma said his government remains administratively neutral and will not interfere in the judicial process. At the same time, he said, the government is working to enhance the protection of human rights here. The president pointed out that Taiwan moved aggressively to ratify two international covenants on human rights. Incorporating these covenants into domestic law has brought human rights protections in Taiwan up to international standards, he said.
A third point was reform in government and in the economic sphere. President Ma pointed out that the national pension Act has been passed, the new labor pension program has been put into practice, and restructuring of the central government has begun, which will significantly streamline the central government’s web of ministries and agencies. In addition, he said, Taiwan’s administrative districts are in the process of a major reform under which seven counties and cities will be combined into five special municipalities. As for industry, the president pointed to the enactment of the Industrial Innovation Act, which will be crucial in pushing Taiwan’s industrial development to a new, third stage. At the same time, the president said, reform is being carried out with regard to the retirement system for employees at private schools. This has been needed for several decades, but prior to this point had not been addressed, he said. The president also pointed to plans for a reformed National Health Insurance program and taxation of the income of military personnel and teachers as areas where reform has been put off for over a decade.
A fourth focal point was efforts to promote tolerance and dialogue between the ruling and opposition parties. The president said that the government is no longer interested in stirring up ideological debates, but focuses instead on promoting stability in the political arena. This has brought about a political climate characterized by tolerance and pluralism, he said, as when he and Democratic Progressive Party Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen debated the cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA). Last month he and Chairman Tsai expressed their views in a televised debate, he said, adding that this type of open debate on public policy had never taken place before in Taiwan, and is even rare in many democratic nations. It was an excellent showcase of Taiwan’s democracy, he noted, and trained a spotlight on the soft power of Taiwan.
A fifth focus of the press conference was direct links across the Taiwan Strait. President Ma said that it is obvious to all that cross-strait relations have shifted from confrontation to negotiation, and from conflict to reconciliation. This development has been almost universally applauded in the international community, as it has reduced regional tension and enhanced stability. At the same time, he said, direct air and sea travel across the Taiwan Strait has begun, and tourists from mainland China are now allowed to visit Taiwan. The president said that in the past, Taiwan companies invested in mainland China and then they would list on the stock market in Hong Kong, Now, he said, they are willing to return to list in Taiwan, which is increasing job opportunities here.
A sixth point was efforts to gain greater maneuvering room for Taiwan in the international community. The president remarked that we are not a large nation and that being isolated in the international community can have a major impact on our development. The president said that the goal of his administration has been to first gradually reduce Taiwan’s international isolation. Our objective is to win more space for ourselves on the world stage, he said, not to engage in scorched earth diplomacy. We have embraced a policy of flexible diplomacy, he said. As we reduce tensions and improve relations with mainland China, we are able, step-by-step, to bolster our relations with the international community. President Ma said that the diplomatic alliances with our 23 diplomatic allies are stable. Meanwhile, relations with nations and areas with which we do not maintain diplomatic ties, but with whom we have close economic and security relations, such as the United States, Japan, Southeast Asia, the European Union, New Zealand, and Australia, are improving. Most important, he said, is the restoration of mutual trust at the highest levels. President Ma pointed out that we have received a positive response regarding 80% of the arms purchases that we have been seeking to make from the United States for nearly 10 years. Meanwhile, we have set up a new representative office in Japan and will begin expanding charter flights. He noted that flights between Taipei’s Songshan Airport and Shanghai’s Hongqiao Airport will commence soon, and flights between Tokyo’s Haneda Airport and Songshan Airport will start up in October. President Ma said that scorched earth diplomacy has been replaced by aboveboard diplomacy and humanitarian diplomacy. He said that Taiwan received outstanding publicity in the international media for its humanitarian efforts after the earthquake in Haiti earlier this year. Meanwhile, he said, we have become a party to the Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA), which will bring enormous business opportunities to Taiwan. The president added that our Minister of Health is presently in Geneva attending the World Health Assembly. Taiwan has never before enjoyed this level of breathing from in the international community, he said.
The global financial tsunami which unfolded shortly after he took office, noted the president, triggered a worldwide economic recession that dealt a serious blow to Taiwan’s exports and caused unemployment to rise significantly. However, he said that the government announced interest rate cuts on seven occasions before and after Lehmann Brothers went bankrupt. Then Premier Liu Chao-shiuan announced that all bank deposits would be fully insured, making Taiwan the first country in Asia to adopt such a policy, he said, adding that this was crucial to ensuring financial stability.
The government’s policies were important in convincing companies not to lay off large numbers of employees. Rather, firms resorted to a policy of unpaid furlough in order to maintain a relationship with its staff. At the peak, some 230,000 people here were on unpaid furlough. The number now, the president said, is just over 1,300.
Taiwan’s economic recovery has gained momentum over the past half year, he said. Exports are extremely buoyant and the unemployment rate has declined for seven consecutive months. It is anticipated that economic growth in the first quarter could break into double digits, he said.
In its 2010 World Competitiveness Yearbook, Switzerland’s IMD ranked Taiwan eighth among the 58 nations covered. This was an improvement of 15 spots from the previous year’s 23rd place ranking. Most important, the president said, is that Taiwan ranks third in the world for corporate competitiveness and sixth for government efficiency. The latest rankings were the best for the ROC in the 16 years in that it has been included in the report, he said. President Ma said that he would especially like to express his appreciation to former Premier Liu for his efforts on the economic front. He said the former premier’s various policies in response to the recession, including measures to stabilize the financial sector as well as the issuance of spending vouchers and expanding domestic consumption, were crucial. The president said he would also like to thank Premier Wu Den-yi for following through on these policies after taking office, thus maximizing the impact of these measures.
President Ma also addressed the challenges caused by the devastating landslides and flooding that resulted from Typhoon Morakot in early August last year. He said that he is deeply aware that a portion of the public was quite dissatisfied with the way the government handled the disaster. Consequently, he said, the government adopted the fastest means possible to begin carrying out reconstruction. He said that the government expects that by August of this year, the one-year anniversary of the disaster, 76% of households in disaster areas will have moved into new homes. In addition, all displaced persons will have moved into new residences by the end of September, he said, adding that the reconstruction effort has gone quite smoothly.
President Ma also discussed measures adopted to prevent the spread of the H1N1 influenza. He said that Taiwan was spared a panic thanks to coordination among the Department of Health, the Ministry of Education, and other government agencies. The president said that Taiwan succeeded in producing a vaccine against the flu. Some 75% of students under the age of 18 were vaccinated, which was the highest ratio of persons vaccinated in that age group anywhere in the world. Meanwhile, he said, 25% of Taiwan’s populace received the vaccination, which placed Taiwan among the top five countries in the world in this regard. As a result, the number of deaths caused by the flu here was 41, and Taiwan’s mortality rate was only one-third the OECD average.
But we must realize, he added, that we could have done better in many areas over the past two years, such as communication with the public, coordination among agencies, and crisis management. The government therefore has faced criticism over the past two years, he said, but expressed his belief that this represents an opportunity to grow. For instance, he said, we have learned lessons about disaster prevention and response, handling the outbreak of epidemics, and generating economic recovery. These experiences will make us stronger in the future, he said, and lay the foundation for a golden decade to come. The economy is on the road to recovery, he said, and everyone is gradually gaining confidence.
President Ma said that he felt the pace of progress in Taiwan during the eight years before he took office was quite slow, so the country needs to pick up the pace now, which is the reason for unveiling his “six steps to a better Taiwan.” These will create the foundation for a golden decade, he said. The six steps are to strengthen the country through innovation; revive the country by promoting culture; save the country through environmental protection; stabilize the country by adhering to the constitution; secure the country by providing social services; and protect the country by promoting peace.
The president first discussed the idea of strengthening the country through innovation. He said that Taiwan must boost its competitiveness through the application of innovation. The nation’s industrial structure must be adjusted, he said, adding that Taiwan’s economic strategies must also be re-worked. Innovation is the core of competitiveness, he said, explaining that Taiwan must be very innovative to survive. Therefore, he said, we must stress building a strong country underpinned by innovation. Innovation, he said, is not limited to technology or high technology, but can take place in every industry. Many non-high tech industries and even non-tech industries here feature a high level of innovation. The creativity and innovation of the people of Taiwan are beginning to attract worldwide notice, he said. President Ma noted that Taiwan placed sixth among 133 economic entities that were ranked in last year’s Global Competitiveness Report issued by the World Economic Forum. Within the overall ranking, Taiwan placed first globally in the number of patents per one million people, he pointed out. Meanwhile, Switzerland’s IMD last year in a study of patent productivity in countries throughout the world, ranked Taiwan third. The president said that he has heard that Taiwan will place third again this year, which demonstrates that Taiwan is among the world’s leaders in patents.
The second step is to revive the country by promoting culture. The president said that culture should be used to highlight Taiwan’s strengths, especially since Taiwan’s culture holds special allure, being an ethnic Chinese culture with special Taiwan features. The core values of this culture are openness, enterprising spirit, kindness, diligence, honesty, and tolerance. Taiwan’s culture in large part reflects its close ties to the sea. It is a culture of diversity, innovation, volunteerism, and compassion, he said. The characteristics of this culture will enable the soft power of Taiwan to make a strong impression on people throughout the world. The key in this effort, he said, is human talent. Therefore, we must attract even more talented people to Taiwan, he said. The president stated that Taiwan has an enormous number of schools in its higher education system considering the size of the country. Nearly every high school student has an opportunity to enter a university if he or she so desires, so we should be able to open up campuses on Taiwan and make them more international, he said. Education could become an important industry that attracts students not only from the region, but also from the far corners of the world, to Taiwan.
The third step is to save the country through environmental protection. The president explained that we need to use green energy to keep carbon emissions to a minimum. He said that everyone is aware of the great importance of environmental issues. If extreme weather continues to be seen frequently, it will be difficult for Taiwan to avoid calamities, he said.
The effort to reduce carbon emissions is a worldwide trend, he said, and substantive achievements resulting from government efforts to promote low carbon emissions throughout Taiwan are already being seen. For the past two years, he said, Taiwan’s carbon emissions have declined, dropping 5% last year from the previous year, and by 4.4% in the year prior to that. Nonetheless, he said, the government is not satisfied. The government’s goal is not only to reduce carbon emissions to 2008 levels, but back to 2005 levels. This means that we are setting even stricter standards for ourselves, he said. President Ma said that Taiwan plans by 2020 to cut carbon emissions by at least 30% below “business as usual” levels. The president said that this marks quite a large commitment for Taiwan in comparison with other nations with which it is grouped. For instance, he said, Taiwan has set a higher goal for itself than Korea or Singapore. The government and the people will need to work together to achieve this goal, he said.
The president said that Taiwan’s green energy technology is highly competitive globally. Taiwan made big strides forward last year in LED lighting, wind power, and electric vehicles, he said, and considerable growth can be expected in the next couple of years. The government hopes that the development of critical technology will not only be used to conserve energy and reduce carbon emissions, but also to actively promote the development and competitiveness of this industry, thereby generating more jobs.
The fourth step, he said, is to stabilize the country by adhering to the constitution. The president stated that the objective is for the government to be clean and operate in accordance with the rule of law. Over the past two years, he said, the government has abided by the constitution, and the semi-presidential system has functioned very well, he said. President Ma commented that a consensus has yet to be reached whether to amend the constitution in the near future, with most people believing that there is no urgency in this respect at this time. If society has not reached a consensus on this issue, he said, we can still resort to other methods, such as amending laws, relying on interpretations by the Justices of the Constitutional Court, or establishing constitutional conventions. These three methods can be used to promote reform within government, he said. In other words, the president said, there are other ways to promote reforms that enjoy consensus within society without having to go the route of constitutional amendment. The current administration has made many efforts in this regard, he said. For instance, the Organic Act of the Central Election Commission will enable the Central Election Commission to truly become a neutral organization. Meanwhile, the Administrative Neutrality Act will prevent political interference in government administration; the Organic Act of Executive Yuan (Cabinet) will significantly change the organizational structure of the Executive Yuan; the Local Government Act will adjust administrative districts; and the Political Parties Act is being formulated. In terms of the judiciary, the Fair and Speedy Criminal Trials Act has been passed to prevent justice from being delayed, and amendments to the Punishment of Corruption Act make it a crime for defendants in corruption-related cases to refuse to explain the source of property. Meanwhile, under the Judges Act, which is currently being formulated, outstanding prosecutors and judges would be rewarded, while those unsuitable for their positions would be dismissed. The president also mentioned that the Examination Yuan is also promoting a variety of civil service reform bills in an effort to boost service quality. All of these legislative initiatives bring about changes without the necessity of amending the constitution, the president said.
The fifth step is to secure the country by providing social services. He said that Taiwan’s social safety net is actually not bad, but there is still room for improvement. The president then introduced several areas that he believes we should be focusing on. First, he said that in the government’s effort to build a prosperous society, the government must not neglect distributive justice. He emphasized that the gap between rich and poor should not be allowed to continue to widen. In response, he said, tax reform needs to continue. Secondly, the president said, Taiwan’s low birth rate will have a severe impact on the nation. The growth rate of Taiwan’s population is the lowest in the world, he said, adding that the aging of society is another impact that Taiwan will soon face. As a result, Taiwan’s social safety net must be adjusted to meet these trends. President Ma pointed out that an environment must be created that encourages young people to start families.
With regard to the aging of society, the president said that a long-term care initiative was laid out during former Premier Liu’s tenure. President Ma said a crucial issue now is how to ensure appropriate planning for long-term care insurance. This is an enormous challenge, he said.
The sixth and final step, the president said, is to protect the country by promoting peace. Peaceful means should be used to establish order in the Taiwan Strait, he said. The objective of cross-strait relations, the president said, is for reconciliation between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait to create a foundation upon which Taiwan can expand room for itself in the international arena and operate in a peaceful environment. This in turn will enable Taiwan to focus its attention on carrying out domestic reforms, he said. The president said he therefore wants to reiterate that his government will adhere to the principle of “no unification, no independence, and no use of force” under the framework of the Constitution of the ROC. In addition, the president noted that the 1992 Consensus with mainland China will serve as the foundation for cross-strait relations. He said that we will first promote reconciliation, followed by cooperation, and lastly the establishment of peace.
President Ma said his goal is to win time to enable the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to take advantage of the wisdom of the Chinese people to find and pursue a means to resolve cross-strait issues. This goal cannot and need not be achieved overnight, he said, but finding means to address the various issues step by step would be beneficial to both sides, he said.
The president said that some people are concerned that in the course of improving relations with mainland China, the sovereignty of the ROC could be jeopardized. During the course of rapprochement with the mainland, some are worried whether Taiwan’s dignity will be harmed. President Ma stressed again that his idea of cross-strait relations will without a doubt protect and defend Taiwan’s dignity, the sovereignty of the ROC, and the Constitution of the ROC.
In the future, he said, we will sign an ECFA with mainland China, and will ink the agreement with this spirit in mind, so the government hopes the people of Taiwan will stand together, because his “six steps to a better Taiwan” will truly enable us to create a golden decade.
President Ma said that while he has faced many trying periods and events over the past two years, he is quite pleased that he has been able to put into practice many of his long-held philosophies. The president said he realizes that there are still many areas where efforts must be made. However, looking back at the nearly 100 years since the establishment of the ROC, he said that we are now standing at a turning point. Over the past 100 years, he said, we have experienced wars, but also peace. We have seen decay, but have also enjoyed progress, and most of the past 61 years since the government relocated to Taiwan have been filled with peace and prosperity. The president said he is confident that this peace and prosperity will continue, adding that this is the reasoning behind his idea of a golden decade. He said he is certain that the paths we have traveled not only feature our footprints, but also our sweat and tears. President Ma stated that he is confident that the wisdom of the people of Taiwan will give us the courage to face the challenges that lie ahead.