Big and Small Steps in Regional Cooperation

Manila Bulletin, June 25, 2015 | Go to article overview

Big and Small Steps in Regional Cooperation


Taipei, Taiwan. When President Ma Ying-jeou took office in 2008, the Kuomintang government revived Cross-Straits after a ten-year suspension. The "1992 Consensus" anchored the "One China, with Respective interpretations" -- a deft sleight of formulation which allowed Taiwan and Mainland China (Taiwan's preferred name to People's Republic of China) free to interpret their meaning. (For Taiwan, "One China" refers to the Republic of China, while for the Mainland, it refers to the People's Republic of China, a bedrocked "agree-to-disagree" formula.)

Ten rounds of talks between Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and Mainland China's counterpart Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) begat 21 agreements covering direct sea and air links, tourism, food safety, quarantine and inspection of agricultural products, financial cooperation, crime-fighting and judicial assistance, an Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, medicine and health, nuclear power safety, environment protection, customs cooperation, trade in services, investment protection, customs cooperation, meteorological cooperation, and earthquake monitoring.

Before Cross-Straits cooperation, there were no direct flights between the two; travelers had to go via Hong Kong or Japan. The barriers were lifted in November, 1987, and there are now about 600 direct flights monthly in both directions -- bringing in 5 million visitors from the Mainland and 4 million from Taiwan. Cross-Straits trade has exceeded US$1 trillion, and the Mainland has become Taiwan's biggest trading partner and trade surplus.

Another feather in the cap of President Ma is the fisheries agreement in April, 2013 with Japan, skirting the problem of claims over what one side calls the Diaoyutai and the other the Senkaku Islands. When Japan nationalized the islands in September, 2012, a way was found via the principle that sovereignty cannot be divided but resources can be shared. Both sides approached the issue by taking the initiative to shelve disputes, respect international law, resolve disagreements peacefully, and negotiate the sharing of resources and their cooperative development. A breakthrough in the talks came in five months, signing a fisheries agreement in April, 2013, in the 17th round of fisheries talks since 1996. (That agreement settled a fisheries dispute that had lasted over 40 years.) The accord covers about 70,000 square kilometers of waters around the Diaoyutai/Senkaku Islands, in which fishermen from each side may operate without interference from coast guards of the other party. The sovereignty dispute has been set aside for the time being, and a "without prejudice" clause in Article 4 stipulates that the sovereignty claims of the two sides are not affected by the fisheries agreement. …

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