Taiwan says time not ripe for China political talks despite warming ties

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou on Sunday said the time was "not ripe" for political negotiations with China, despite fast improving economic ties.

Since his re-election in 2012, Mr Ma has hinted at his reluctance to engage in political discussions with Beijing, which insists that the island is part of China, even though it has ruled itself for more than 60 years since their split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.

However, in an unusually bold interview with the Taipei-based China Times, Mr Ma made it clear that political negotiations are not on the table.

"Time is not ripe for Taiwan to conduct political dialogues with the mainland," he said. "Since there is no consensus on this point, then why rush?" he added, referring to China's claim on the island.

It came in stark contrast to a leaked US diplomatic cable in 2011 which said Mr Ma would seek to open political negotiations with Beijing if he is re-elected.

Taiwan's then vice-president Vincent Siew made the assertion during a phone call in 2009 to Mr Stephen Young, director of the de facto US embassy at the time, according to the cable.

Mr Siew was quoted as saying that issues up for discussion might include "a peace treaty, a formal end to hostilities, and development of bilateral military confidence mechanisms".

The past five years have seen improved economic cooperation between China and Taiwan, including the signing of a historic trade agreement. But the idea of political, as opposed to trade, talks with the mainland is highly sensitive in Taiwan.

Mr Ma told the China Times that the experience of the last five years indicated that Taiwan and the mainland could co-exist in a peaceful and stable manner without conducting political negotiations.

Tensions across the Taiwan Strait have eased markedly since 2008 after Mr Ma came to power on a platform of beefing up trade and tourism links.

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