Tue, Mar 17, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Why hurry for Chinese integration?

By Sushil Seth

During the course of his recent speech in the National People’s Congress (NPC), Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) said the process of Taiwan’s economic integration with China would continue, adding that if Taiwan were to behave, this might eventually become the basis for a free trade agreement.

There was nothing new in Wen’s remark about Taiwan regarding closer political and economic relations. It was vague and lacking in specifics.

For instance, Wen called for “fair and reasonable arrangements” for Taiwan’s participation in international organizations. But there was nothing to suggest how to go about it nor what the scope of Taiwan’s international participation would be.

In the same way, he talked about a formal cessation of hostilities with Taiwan. He didn’t indicate, however, if there would be a formal peace treaty or some other defined mechanism of dialogue or cooperation between the militaries of the two countries.

The administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is focusing on the economic aspects of the relationship, and is not too keen to take up the political and military aspects.

This approach is dangerous, because over time the relative weight of China’s economic and political power might become so overwhelming that Taiwan would not have any option but to wind up as another Hong Kong.

It won’t be much fun being in that situation when China is faced with problems such as the serious concern about the adequacy of the US$585 billion stimulus plan China announced in November, as well as its distribution and the level of transparency involved.

Some of the stimulus money is said to be a repackaging of the old spending plans.

Of the overall planned spending, nearly US$175 billion will come from the central government and the rest from banks, investors and local governments.

Without specific guidelines, all this seems to be a questionable arrangement, to say the least.

There will be very little transparency, particularly with regard to spending by local governments and other agencies on pet projects, which will involve corruption and wasteful expenditure. Obviously, much of the stimulus money will go into infrastructure projects like building roads and railways.

Some party elders are worried about this on two levels. First, they would like more spending for social sectors like health and education. Their second worry is the lack of transparency and the consequent need for democratic functioning.

Talking about the priorities of the stimulus package, Du Guang (杜光), a party elder, reportedly said: “You have to look at how to expand demand in the long term … Social spending is more important than building railways, expressways and other basic infrastructure.”

And there is serious concern about corruption, as expressed in a Jan. 20 letter from some elders to Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and the party leadership.

A New York Times report quoted the letter as saying: “We are extremely worried that the privileged and the corrupt will seize this opportunity to fatten themselves … and intensify social conflict.”

They therefore urged the party leadership to free the media and let courts operate without interference to ensure greater transparency and a fairer judicial process.

In other words, the party should take this opportunity of economic slowdown to readjust economic priorities with greater focus on social spending, combined with democracy.

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