It might surprise you, but I'm fully in favor of free trade. Quite often I find myself walking out of the local Family Mart with a gratis pack of Long Life cigarettes in the pocket of my shorts.
But for reasons that remain a mystery, Taiwanese government officials seem hell bent on signing a free trade agreement (FTA) with the world's "No. 1 exporter of democracy," the good old US of A.
The benefits of such an agreement are hard to fathom. After all, now that we have Dunkin' Donuts, life here in Taiwan is complete. It's not like we need any more McDonald's and Starbucks, is it?
Besides, FTAs with the US are more like BKAs (Burger King agreements) because Uncle Sam always "wants it his way," and 99 times out of 100 he gets it.
But anybody with the slightest bit of intelligence and the ability to read a newspaper (something beyond our government, it seems) would know by now that the US is leading Taiwan up a very wide and long FTA garden path.
A front page article on Feb. 8. in this very newspaper quoted Eric Altbach, the US Trade Representative (USTR) office's top China and Taiwan negotiator as saying: "Given the demands this full agenda places on USTR and other agencies ... it is frankly impossible for us to launch any new FTA negotiations at this time."
It must have been difficult for the Taipei Times reporter to understand Altbach, as his tongue must have been stuck very firmly in his cheek. Just two days earlier on page 10 of this noble publication ran a story with the headline "US, Malaysia launch new FTA talks." And you can bet your bottom dollar that the FTA in question wasn't a new chapter of the Friends of the Taliban Association. Hey, MOFA, wake up and smell the frappuccino!
Yet Taiwanese officials continue to beg, grovel and lick the boots of Bush's boys trying to convince them to sign on the dotted line.
It's pretty obvious that the main reason officials here want to sign an FTA is because it confers the notion of statehood upon little old us, something they pursue with the same amount of rabid obsession as a teenage girl trying to complete her set of 7-Eleven Snoopy and Woodstock multi-view cards.
But as ever with Taiwan and its mission to become a "normal country" -- whatever that means -- there is a big Red obstacle standing in the way.
For deny it as they might, US officials cannot convince me or my dog that the Chicoms aren't behind the distinct lack of progress. In fact, it got me wondering what kind of conversation would transpire between US and Chinese officials if one day the US were to even consider beginning talks with Taipei:
Communist cadre: "We hear you're thinking of talking to Taiwan about signing a free trade agreement."
US official: "Why, yes sir. That's correct."
Communist cadre: "You must stop this splittist activity immediately. Don't you realize? No one can halt the sacred mission to reunify the motherla... [blah, blah, blah. Five minutes later:] One phone call from Comrade Hu and by this time next week, the shelves of all your Wal-Marts will be empty."
US official: "Now wait a minute Charlie. What was that last part about Wal-Mart? Shee-iit ... Hank, get on the phone and call them talks off."
Talk about gullible. Do they think we Taiwanese just got off the last banana boat? FYI, Uncle Sam, we grew the freakin' bananas and we own the damn boat.