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Bilateral economic ties will ease tensions with China: Ma

Taipei, Taiwan -- President Ma Ying-jeou yesterday said Taiwan hopes normalized bilateral economic ties with China will enable both sides' talks over greater international presence for the island.

Ma said he hopes to gradually ease the tensions and build better ties across the Taiwan Strait by increasing bilateral trade and economic exchanges.

He said he has already succeeded in pushing for the resumption of cross-strait negotiations and in establishing direct transportation between the two sides.

Reiterating his administration's top priority to maintain peace and prosperity in the region, Ma said the “Chinese civil war of the 1940s must never happen again.

“Peace never comes easily, because over 1,000 missiles deployed by Beijing are still aimed at Taiwan,” he said at the opening of the two-day 2009 International Leadership Conference held at the Grand Hotel.

Ma's Kuomintang lost a civil war to the Chinese communists and fled to Taiwan in 1949.

China has vowed to take Taiwan by force if it declares independence. Beijing has also succeeded in blocking Taipei from many international organizations, including the United Nations.

But Taiwan has mounted attempts over the past few years to become an observer at the World Health Assembly (WHA), the decision making body of the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO).

But all attempts have failed because of China's objection.

The outcome of Taiwan's bid for observer status at WHA will serve as an important indicator of whether cross-strait ties can be normalized, Vice Foreign Ministry Andrew Hsia said.

Hsia, citing President Ma, said if Taiwan continues to be barred from the WHA, it would be impossible to normalize Taipei-Beijing ties.

Ma has been trying to set aside sovereignty issues while handling cross-strait ties, but it remains to be seen whether Beijing is willing to go along with Taipei on the same line.

But Hsia said Taipei's WHA bid this year stands a “better chance” judging from improved cross-strait ties.

If the WHA bid succeeds, the Taiwan government will explore opportunities to take part in other WHO activities such as meetings with the organization's expert committees.

Since 1997, Taiwan has tried unsuccessfully to gain observer status at the WHA because of China's interference and objections.

In 2007, it applied for full WHO membership under the name “Taiwan” for the first time, but the bid failed again due to opposition from Beijing.

The leadership conference in Taipei yesterday was jointly sponsored by several non-governmental organizations, including the Women's Federation for World Peace, Taiwan, R.O.C., and the Universal Peace Federation, with an aim to provide a platform for countries to exchange views and discuss solutions to major issues.

The opening session in which Ma spoke was attended by more than 100 religious, political and academic representatives from 16 Asian countries and 300 local delegates.

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