Sat, Apr 04, 2009 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: The grass is bluer on the other side

How bittersweet it is to recall pronouncements — on and off the record — by Taiwan-based foreign chambers of commerce and individual businesses that the election of a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government would improve Taiwan’s economy.

How amusing it is, then, to see the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei (AmCham) and the European Chamber of Commerce Taipei (ECCT) complaining about a KMT legislative amendment that will lower the cap on credit card interest rates and probably damage Taiwan’s attractiveness as an investment destination.

The latter-day KMT is not the technocrat-friendly organization it once was, and in recent times individual legislators have used their authority within the party to advance spurious — sometimes almost anarchic — reforms at the expense of good governance and against all expert advice.

AmCham and the ECCT are absolutely justified in their concerns. But they cannot complain too loudly: They got what they asked for, and there is likely more of this to come. When they lament a “sudden and arbitrary shift in regulatory policy” resulting from political considerations, the real question that arises is why they didn’t heed this tendency when the KMT was in opposition.

Whether in opposition or government, the cultivation and protection of democracy has never been the guiding principle of the KMT machine. This is why it is so willing to cut hasty, unaccountable deals with the Chinese Communist Party. But with this latest display of financial ineptitude, there is a real concern that any economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China might carry a potentially crippling payload.

The evidence for this has amassed to the extent that it is shocking just how consistently think tanks in the US and other countries are ignoring it.

If Taiwan-based foreign professionals can be taken by surprise by such policy developments, what hope is there for political analysts and legislators overseas who don’t have the inside track?

In the last few weeks, people in high places in the US Congress have recycled expressions like “peaceful unification” as code for the rejection of the political and economic concerns of half of Taiwan’s population — and possibly many more.

With informed observers feeling gloomier all the time about Taiwan’s ability to defend itself, the “peaceful unification” supported by certain members of the US Congress may turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy — but only in part.

“Unification” is certainly on the cards. But the most generous concession that can be offered is that as long as the Chinese Communist Party rules China, “peaceful unification” will remain a fantasy, an expression that George Orwell might have fruitfully used in one of his dystopic novels.

A telling piece of research might solicit the KMT’s Central Standing Committee and other influential party officials on what they would do if — as is most likely — they were forced to choose between a democratic Taiwanese state with control over economic policy and an autocratic, “unified” China in which economics plays second fiddle.

The answer would hardly raise an eyebrow in Taiwan, but it would come as a real shock to foreign analysts here and in the US whose belief in “peaceful unification” is sincere.

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