The government of Taiwan has objected to an AP dispatch based on an interview Tuesday with President Ma Ying-jeou, saying that certain paraphrases used in the article distorted the president's message and contained errors of emphasis and fact.
The disputed passages concerned the degree to which the president is open to a political dialogue with Beijing, the likelihood of such talks in the near future, and specifically whether he suggested a dialogue on political issues could take place as soon as his second term of office, if he is re-elected in 2012.
In a letter to The Associated Press, Johnny Chi-Chen Chiang, minister of the Government Information Office, said several key passages in the article were "not correct or faithful representations of the interview content."
AP Senior Managing Editor John Daniszewski said the objections cited by Chiang and other government officials were mainly matters of emphasis.
"We understand that this is a very sensitive and important issue for the government and people of Taiwan. We believe that a fair reading of the interview transcript and the article shows that the AP conveyed the essential facts about Ma's views. However, we understand the issues that have led to the complaint," said Daniszewski.
"President Ma's position is that any opening for talks on political issues with China should move in step with the public and parliament in Taiwan, that he has no timetable, and that resolving all outstanding economic issues are his priority."
The AP article caused a sensation in Taiwan, where commentators felt that Ma was shifting to a more open position toward talks on political unification than he had in the past.
In the interview, Ma was asked whether a political dialogue could occur during a second four-year term. He did not answer directly but said certain other developments would have to take place first, stating: "As I said, it depends on how fast we move, whether these issues are satisfactorily resolved, and of course all the policies regarding the mainland are very sensitive, and we certainly will also make decisions on generally whether the decision receives popular support."
In its dispatch, the AP said Ma had suggested that talks could take place "as early as a second-year term" _ an interpretation the government says was in error.
In the article's first paragraph, the AP reported that Ma said he was "open to a political dialogue with China once remaining economic issues are resolved." In discussions with the AP, the Taiwan government said that the AP should have placed more emphasis on his statements about the need to first resolve all outstanding economic and trade issues and for the Taiwanese people to become convinced that the time was right.
The AP said that, according to Ma, any political union with Beijing would require Beijing to adopt democracy and respect for human rights and because of such concerns there was no timetable for the process.
Ma's actual quote was: "I think that will help, that will help. In other words, but there is no guarantee how long it would take for the people of Taiwan to believe it's time to do so. And opinion polls show that the majority of the people support maintaining the status quo. And obviously this trend has been maintained for over at least 20 years. And given the high approval rate of the status quo I think we'll continue. So far, the mainland, aside from the economic side, the political reforms on the democratic side have made little progress."
The government objected to the AP's use of the term "political union" as a synonym for unification. Ma had been asked about the possibility of the Taiwanese people engaging in a "conversation about unification" with the mainland government if China became fully democratic.
In his reply, the president said "that will help," but never spoke of a possible future union.