TAIPEI - Former Vice President Vincent Siew said Saturday that China's ascent is inevitable and Taiwan should try to take advantage of that rise as a stepping stone for development, rather than closing its doors and opposing anything involving Beijing.
In a keynote speech on the first day of the three-day National Conference on Economic and Trade Affairs, Siew said China, as the world's biggest trading nation, is emerging in a globalised world and that its ascent is inevitable and closely related to Taiwan's development.
The development of the world economy over the past 20 years has been affected by globalisation and the onset of the knowledge economy, which have been far more responsible for Taiwan's sluggish economy than China's rise, Siew contended.
Globalization and the knowledge economy are both linked to widening income inequality, Siew said, and to address those challenges Taiwan needs to adjust its industrial structure and step up the opening of its economy to better connect it to global markets.
Siew suggested that to revitalize Taiwan's economy in the short term, the government should boost public spending on infrastructure despite its tight budget.
The former vice president also advocated pushing forward a plan to establish free economic pilot zones (FEPZs).
Unlike the controversial trade-in-services agreement with China that calls for a full opening of the service industry, Siew said the economic zone plan aims to relax regulations for developing high-end services on a trial basis.
He appealed to the public to think about the plan in a rational manner and urged all sectors of society to pay more attention to economics than to politics, saying that political parties should respect professional opinions when formulating economic policies.
Given Taiwan's strong industrial and talent-based competitiveness, it should boldly open up its markets, Siew added.
The conference, sponsored by the Executive Yuan, kicked off yesterday. The three-day conference, which is taking place at the Taipei International Convention Center, is being held in response to requests from the Sunflower Student Movement to summon a "civil constitutional governance conference."
Two separate subjects were deliberated yesterday: "Taiwan's economic development strategy in the globalisation trend" and "Taiwan's participation in regional economic integration and cross-strait economic and trade strategies."
Premier Promises to Implement Meeting Conclusions
The conference, chaired by Premier Jiang Yi-huah and former Vice Premier Lin Hsin-i, had 160 attendees, including heavyweights Finance Minister Chang Sheng-ford, National Development Council Minister Kuan Chung-ming, Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin and Taipei Chamber of Commerce Director-General Wang Ying-chieh.
The conference, however, was boycotted by opposition political parties and groups that oppose the government. They argued that the meeting will encourage talk but not produce policies or strategies that can really be implemented in the future.
Premier Jiang said he is much more serious and confident about the meeting. Jiang said that he very much regretted the fact the conference was unable to attract the participation of all parties. Nevertheless, he promised that any conclusions reached in the meetings will be promptly carried out by the government.
"In regards to conclusions reached by the end of the three-day meetings, whether they are consensus opinions, majority opinions or individual opinions, we will review them all carefully," Jiang said. "With consensus opinions, the executive authority promises to implement them with upmost sincerity and determination."
Transparency through Live Feed Post
An unprecedented "live feed wall" has been set up at the conference, where discussions are posted live for those who are not present, at the same time allowing the public to voice their opinions on the wall. This mechanism allows the public to hear speakers while providing instantaneous feedback. The transparency ensures that the conference is not a "black box" operation, Jiang said.
A large security force was dispatched at the conference yesterday and venues nearby MRT exits were guarded by police. While no protest groups showed up, several groups, including Democracy Tautin, Taiwan Rural Front, Green Citizens' Action Alliance and Doctors' Working Conditions Reform Task Force, are expected to show up on Monday.
According to Sunflower Movement student leader Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷), none of the student activists were invited to the event. Chen said that while the Sunflower Movement asked for a "civil constitutional governance conference" to root out problems at a fundamental level, the government has failed to do so by wasting money on holding this trade and economic conference and youth consultancy groups, which Chen claims, are only meetings in form.