Updated: 04/10/2014 00:30 | By Agence France-Presse

Taiwan's Ma hopes for summit with China

Taiwan's president said Wednesday he hopes to hold a historic summit with China's leader, but acknowledged that conditions are not yet right, amid domestic opposition to his pro-Beijing policies.

Taiwan's Ma hopes for summit with China

The president of Taiwan, Ma Ying-jeou in Comayagua, 80 km north of Tegucigalpa, on January 26, 2014 - by Orlando Sierra

President Ma Ying-jeou said the November gathering in Beijing of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum -- one of the few international groups in which Taiwan is a member -- would be an ideal time for him to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping as the setting would "greatly minimize the sensitivity."

"The meeting should bring benefit to Taiwan and to cross-strait relations. So far, I have said that the APEC meeting would be a good occasion for the leaders to meet because the setting seems to be tailor-made," Ma told the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington by video-conference.

But Ma conceded that Beijing "does not take a positive view of this request" and said a meeting should not take place unless it is "supported by our people" on both sides of the strait.

Protesters recently agreed to end a three-week sit-in of Taiwan's parliament as they sought to force the withdrawal of a service trade agreement with China. 

Student leader Chen Wei-ting charged that Ma was dictatorial by pushing through the agreement secretly and not listening to alternative opinions.

Ma belongs to the Kuomintang party, which fled to Taiwan and set up its government after losing the mainland's civil war in 1949. Beijing considers Taiwan to be a province awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.

Ma has pushed to ease tensions with China since his election in 2008 through closer trade and cultural relations. Taiwan's opposition has voiced fear of a non-military Chinese takeover and has instead emphasized the self-ruling democracy's separate identity.

Taiwan's official in charge of China policy in February traveled to Nanjing to meet his counterpart in the first talks between the two governments since their split. The landmark sign of reconciliation came even as China's relations grow more testy with most other neighbors, especially Japan and the Philippines.

- Prioritizing trade -

Ma offered a robust defense of the controversial agreement with China, accusing protesters of "inexplicable fear" of trade with the mainland and saying that the sit-in has alarmed other trading partners.

The occupation of parliament has made foreign nations "uneasy about Taiwan as a reliable trading partner and our seriousness about trade liberalization," Ma said.

Ma said that Taiwan, with its "somewhat saturated" services sector, would not see overwhelming mainland investment. Instead, Ma said that Taiwan would enjoy an economic boost by competing better in the mainland's market.

The opposition Democratic Progressive Party has urged renegotiation of several points, saying Taiwan should bar Chinese investment in telecommunications and geological surveys on security grounds and be cautious about the communist state's involvement in publishing.

China has long opposed Taiwan's international activities, but Ma noted that Taiwan was able to seal trade deals with Singapore and New Zealand with minimal controversy after reaching the framework agreement with the mainland in 2010.

Ma said the United States could offer a "helping hand" by supporting Taiwan's membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a potentially sweeping US-based trade pact under negotiation that also includes Japan, Australia and Canada. 

The United States has not opposed Taiwan's participation but indicated it was waiting for a more concrete expression of interest before deciding.

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