Ma to raise issue of international space for island

The Straits Times' foreign editor Audrey Quek discusses with digital news editor Ernest Luis the importance of the historic meeting that is set to take place in Singapore on Nov 7 between China President Xi Jinping and Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou.

One issue close to Taiwanese hearts that President Ma Ying-jeou will raise with Chinese President Xi Jinping is international space for Taiwan.

At his press conference on Thursday on his summit with the Chinese leader, Mr Ma said he would discuss with Mr Xi the problems that Taiwan faces in trying to participate in international organisations.

Since Taiwan left the United Nations in 1971 and China was admitted to the world body, the island has faced increasing isolation as Beijing sought to limit its international space. It now has only 23 diplomatic allies, mostly small and impoverished countries in Latin America, Africa and the Pacific that welcome the aid which Taiwan provides.

Taipei was only able to expand somewhat its international space after the China-friendly Mr Ma came to power in 2008 and sought closer ties with Beijing.

In 2009, Taiwan was given observer status at the annual World Health Assembly, the first time since 1971 that the island was able to participate in a UN-affiliated organisation.

After Taiwan signed the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement with China in 2010, it was able to sign trade pacts with Singapore and New Zealand.

Still, this means Taiwan has only eight free trade agreements to its name, the rest being with diplomatic allies Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama.

It fears marginalisation, particularly after the 12-member Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was inked last month, and seeks not just TPP membership but also to join the 16-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

One sensitive subject that the two leaders will not discuss today is the disputed South China Sea, where Taiwan lays claim to some territories, together with China and four Asean states. Indeed, the nine-dash-line map that Beijing uses to make its claims was based on one drawn up in the 1940s by the Kuomintang (KMT) government before it was forced out of China in 1949 after losing the civil war to the Chinese Communist Party.

Mr Ma , from the KMT, had earlier sought to play a role in the contested waters, putting forth in May his South China Sea Peace Initiative.

Goh Sui Noi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2015, with the headline 'Ma to raise issue of international space for island'. Print Edition | Subscribe