TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan's president said Friday that the democratic island is in no rush to enter into substantive political talks with mainland China, despite a call to do so by Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
Addressing journalists in Taipei, Ma Ying-jeou acknowledged that at least one of the subjects currently under discussion between Taipei and Beijing — opening representative offices on each other's territory — did have a political component, but said he was in no rush to confront the serious political issues dividing the sides.
"We have a principle of discussing easy matters before harder ones and economic issues before political ones," he said.
Ma's willingness to categorize as at least partly political the talks on the representative office issue appeared to reflect on an effort on his side to deflect pressure from Beijing, which ultimately seeks to bring the democratic island under its control.
Last month on the sidelines of a regional economic summit in Indonesia, Xi indicated to Taiwanese representatives that he was losing patience with Taiwan's go-slow approach on political dialogue.
"The issue of the political divide that exists between the two sides must step by step reach a final resolution and it cannot be passed on from generation to generation," the official Xinhua news agency quoted Xi as saying.
Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949. China still claims the democratic island as part of its territory, and insists that it will be brought back into the fold, and has threatened to use force if the island were to declare independence or delay unification indefinitely.
That stance is extremely unpopular on Taiwan, where the great majority of the island's 23 million people have no interest in uniting with the mainland, seeing it as the death knell for their hard-won democratic freedoms.
Ma appeared to acknowledge that in his remarks on Friday, saying he was not considering holding a referendum on a peace treaty with Beijing — something he himself says would be necessary before such a treaty could be considered.
"I don't think the time is now right," he said. "I think we can wait."
The peace treaty is favored by China, because it sees its implementation as putting Taiwan on an inevitable trajectory toward unity, the ultimate goal of its Taiwan policy for the past six decades.