In an interview on Thursday, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) repeated his intention to push through an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China, insisting that it was the only way for Taiwan’s economy to remain competitive as regional trade pacts excluding Taiwan kick in.
However, the government has done an extremely poor job of explaining how an ECFA would benefit the public, largely because Taipei and Beijing have yet to work out the details of the proposed pact.
Since, by Ma’s own admission, no official talks have taken place and China’s position on the finer points of the pact is unknown, the rosy predictions of the benefits of such a pact made by institutions such as the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research seem a little far-fetched.
Another problem is that those who oppose an ECFA have not put forward a viable alternative. The truth is that apart from organizing a campaign for a referendum on the signing of an ECFA, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has said little or nothing about what else would work.
Criticizing the ECFA is one thing, but if the opposition cannot come up with a credible new policy for people to scrutinize, then those who don’t support the pact have nothing with which to counter the government’s ECFA propaganda.
China’s growing economic and diplomatic might, its position relative to Taiwan and the history between the two mean that it cannot be ignored.
Instead of burying its head in the sand and hoping that China will go away, the opposition needs to present a way of dealing with China economically and politically that will uphold Taiwan’s interests and sovereignty.
As a former chairwoman of the Mainland Affairs Council, WTO negotiator, policy adviser to the Ministry of Economic Affairs and an expert in international economics, business law and treaties, DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) should be the ideal candidate. So far, however, all Tsai has done is demand transparency during the ECFA negotiation process and repeat that the DPP opposes any treaty signed under the “one China” framework.
What she really needs to do is present a practical alternative, one that would leave no doubt about the issue of sovereignty, such as a deal signed between Taiwan and China under the auspices of the WTO.
The DPP — because of the small number of seats it holds in the legislature — has resorted to “scorched earth” tactics, such as boycotts when opposing government policies that would allow Chinese students to study in Taiwan. However, if the DPP carries on with such tactics and continues to oppose the government’s proposals for the sake of opposition — reminiscent of the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) actions during its time out of power — the party could lose the credibility that it still holds in the eyes of moderate voters.
The DPP needs to come up with a counter to the KMT’s “China-centric approach” and get it out into the public domain fast before the momentum of cross-strait rapprochement becomes too great and the DPP starts to fade into obscurity.