President Ma concerned about Chinese leader`s visit to U.S.

Taipei (ANTARA News/CNA) - President Ma Ying-jeou said Monday his administration is very concerned about Chinese President Hu Jintao`s imminent visit to the United States and hopes it will not hamper Taiwan`s procurement of U.S.-built F-16 C/D fighter jets.

Hu is scheduled to make a state visit to the United States from Jan. 18-21, during which he will meet with President Barack Obama at the White House.

"Although Taiwan will not be a major topic during Hu`s U.S. visit, we are still closely following the event, " Ma said while receiving two U.S. think tank academics at the Presidential Office.

He told his guests -- Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, and Dan Blumenthal, a research fellow of the Washington-based think tank -- that Taiwan`s plan to purchase F-16 C/Ds is not aimed at expanding its military arsenal but rather at replacing its fleet of aging F-16 A/B fighters.

Ma said he hopes Hu`s upcoming U.S. visit will not affect Taiwan`s jet fighter procurement project.

On relations with China, Ma said bilateral ties across the Taiwan Strait have continued to progress steadily. Among other initiatives, he said, the two sides have begun mutual tariff reductions or exemptions on hundreds of products since the beginning of this year in accordance with an "early harvest" program that is part of the cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) signed last June.

Taiwan and China will also negotiate further liberation of trade and services as well as investment protection and the establishment of dispute settlement mechanisms this year, Ma said.

Over the past year, he noted, security in East Asia has come under the shadow of North Korea`s threat of war. In the process, Taiwan has unwaveringly supported the stance taken by the U.S., South Korea and Japan toward North Korea and has condemned Pyongyang`s provocative policy, he said.

Ma said his administration will continue working to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and contribute to regional development.

The president also expressed the hope that Taiwan would be included into the U.S. visa-waiver program in the not-to-distant future.

Hailing the European Union`s inclusion of Taiwan into the Schengen Area visa-waiver program on Jan. 11 as a recognition of the quality of Taiwanese citizens, Ma said his government will take active steps to clear the way for U.S. to do the same.

Taiwan`s efforts in this regard will include changing its regulations to stipulate that its citizens apply in person for national passports, he said, adding that the measure will be launched in July.
(U.KR-IFB/H-AK/P003)

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