Mon, Dec 15, 2008 - Page 8 News List

Cross-strait air and sea pacts forfeit sovereignty

By Lin Cho-shui 林濁水

The humiliating direct sea and air transportation agreements signed by Taiwan and China — which basically forfeit Taiwan’s sovereignty — have been forced through in the legislature.

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said the pacts did not touch on sovereignty issues and that cross-strait routes were neither domestic nor international. However, under the agreements, although direct sea and air links are defined as “special routes,” they have in effect become domestic routes. Not only does this sabotage the country’s sovereignty, but it will hurt economic development. The pacts have set up a Chinese trap for improving cross-strait relations by sacrificing Taiwan’s international ties.

Because the cross-strait air routes have not been registered with the International Air Transport Association as required by international rules, they are considered domestic ones. These deals are now also wreaking havoc on sea transportation, which had been insulated from the sovereignty dispute.

International custom considers seaports free and open, and exchanges between seaports in two countries do not require government negotiations as long as marine companies and seaports reach agreements.

As for routes between domestic ports, foreign ships are in principle banned from entering and transporting goods. The Ma government could have avoided conducting negotiations with China, but it did and reached an agreement that only ships registered under the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) are eligible for cross-strait sea routes. These routes have thus been made domestic. Moreover, the agreement will lay more restrictions on the nation’s flag-of-convenience ships and is extremely detrimental to the domestic shipping industry and ports.

By law, each Taiwanese ship could hire two foreign Grade A sailors and half of its Grade B sailors must be Taiwanese. Given the fact that Chinese vessels hire sailors at very low rates, there is a big difference in employment cost. Worse yet, although wages for Taiwanese sailors are much higher than those of their foreign colleagues, Taiwanese crew still are not willing to work.

Ninety-seven percent of Taiwanese cargo vessels are registered under flags of convenience. Since Chinese cargo ships do not have problems with crew employment and carry far higher volumes than Taiwanese ships, the agreements allowing only Chinese and Taiwanese vessels on the cross-strait routes will put Taiwanese ships in a completely disadvantageous position.

Not only that, the domestic cross-strait routes will also put restrictions on foreign air and sea lines and cause harm to the international competitiveness of domestic sea and air ports.

The so-called Asia-Pacific sea and air transportation hub has become a pipe dream. What’s worse, in order to solve this strange sea transportation system, Ma’s administration has reached a consensus with China that the country of registration of Taiwan’s flag-of-convenience ships can be converted to Hong Kong. But doing so will only increase cost and is tantamount to forcing Taiwanese ships to register under the Chinese flag.

To disguise the fact that the agreements compromise Taiwan’s sovereignty, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications has said foreign ships have shown keen interest in changing their country of registration to Taiwan. This is a joke. Even if we were to ignore the fact that half of the crew must be Taiwanese, it would still be impossible because 50 percent of the ship must be Taiwanese-owned.

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