Taiwan's Premier wants 'friendly' ties with China

Taiwan's Premier wants 'friendly' ties with China

TAIWAN's premier Lin Chuan says he isn't opposed to stronger economic ties with China, even as the administration looks to boost its trade links with the US and Southeast Asia.

China is a big market and many industries across the strait complement each other, Mr Lin said in his first interview with foreign media since he was sworn in almost a year ago. "We shouldn't push it away," he said at his offices in Taipei.

"As it is a huge market over there in mainland China, it behooves Taiwan to maintain friendly, smooth economic relations. In doing that, there's no downside forTaiwan.

"So as far as trade and the division of labour are concerned, the cross-strait economic relationship isn't something that should be avoided," Mr Lin said.

The cabinet chief's comments come as President Tsai Ing-wen proposes a new model for cross-strait relations with a focus on structural cooperation. It's a careful balance: Some lawmakers in Tsai's ruling Democratic Progressive Party criticised her predecessor for a perceived over-reliance on China, which accounted for as much as 41.8 per cent of the island's exports during Ma Ying-jeou's tenure, according to Bloomberg.

While Mr Lin's portfolio includes the economy, relations with China are overseen by Tsai. Mr Lin said Taiwan also wants to foster trade links with other nations to reduce domestic anxiety over a dependence on China. Chinese opposition to such moves could hurt ties, he added.

"He was addressing the objective reality," according to Alexander Huang, chairman of the Taipei-based Council on Strategic & Wargaming Studies. "The high reliance results from the choice of businesses like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co and Foxconn Technology Group, instead of governments."

Tensions between the diplomatically-isolated Taiwan and China have been elevated since Tsai's pro-independence DPP swept the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang from power last year. Tsai, who has angered Beijing by refusing to endorse the One-China framework, has sought to bolster the island's military and reduce its trade dependence on China.

Free-trade deals are necessary for a small, open economy like Taiwan, Mr Lin said. "We will adopt low-key and pragmatic measures to establish better economic relations with other countries," said the former finance minister and statistics bureau head.

Mr Lin said a US free-trade pact could help enhance the competitiveness of Taiwanese products, though he added it would depend on US interest in having such talks. Taipei could also seek discussions with the European Union, he said.

Tsai's administration is also seeking closer ties with Australia, New Zealand, the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and six South Asian countries.

Still, "China will see this as not just an economic issue but a political one," Mr Lin said, adding "that's regrettable for us."

"China should think these things through more clearly," he said. "If Taiwan establishes better economic ties with other countries, it's not just good for Taiwan, it's good for economic ties across the strait."

Diversified economic relations could help counter domestic objections to economic links with Beijing, Mr Lin said. "Only when Taiwan has better economic relationships with other countries can Taiwan and China share closer economic ties and more opportunities," he said.

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