Mon, May 02, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: A common market is a bad idea

During the meeting between Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) in Beijing on Friday, the two parties came up with a five-point communique and, among other things, agreed to seek closer economic ties across the Taiwan Strait that included the discussion of a common market.

Lien wasn't the first one in Taiwan to publicly drum up the idea of setting up a common market similar to the EU as an institutionalized mechanism for economic and commercial cooperation across the Taiwan Strait. His vice-presidential running mate in the 2000 presidential election, Vincent Siew (蕭萬長), initiated this idea in late 2000 and has been making great efforts promoting it since he founded the Taiwan Cross-Strait Common Market Foundation in March 2001.

Siew, chairman of the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research, believed the common market can serve as a framework for economic cooperation, eventually leading to political integration.

No doubt Siew regards these as very visionary goals. Unfortunately, the prescription by Siew and now by Lien doesn't deal with the central problem. The important questions are, do Taiwan and China share either the basic economic structure or universal principles of the European integration model in terms of democracy, human rights and the rule of law? Also, how will the job get done, given China's insistence upon the "one China" principle and its denial of the sovereign state that Taiwan is?

To be honest, there is no fault with the common-market concept itself. But there does exist a greater difference between the attitudes of China and Taiwan toward a cross-strait common market. For Taiwan, a common market may represent an alternative to unification with China and at the same time a chance to exploit the massive Chinese market. But for China, the cross-strait common-market scenario is nothing but part of its united-front tactics to divide Taiwan as it hopes to achieve its unification goal.

The discussion about forming a common market will probably go nowhere as long as Beijing maintains its precondition for talks -- that Taiwan must recognize the coercive "one China" principle.

So Lien and his party's enthusiasm about the common-market concept may appear one-sided. First of all, the communique did not elaborate on the matter, although Lien later that day said his idea behind the concept was to increase and guarantee investment and trade across the Taiwan Strait. Secondly, he argued that the private sector can begin with economic forum discussions to lay down the foundation for a future common market, if President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) government refuses the idea. Maybe Lien should be reminded of the fact that the issue is dependent on government-to-government talks.

Sure, talks would help. But the solution for breaking the political impasse across the Taiwan Strait doesn't lie in the formation of a common market.

No one can possibly say whether the European model of integration can be transplanted to the two sides of the Strait. But at this point, both sides are members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and there do exist opportunities that the two countries can talk on the issue of legal protection for businessmen, particularly in such areas as investment guarantees and bankruptcy codes at the world trade body.

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