The fourth meeting between Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) Chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) and Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) begins today.
Even before Chiang and Chen meet, the government has mobilized a large number of police and soldiers and tried to persuade shops near the venue to close. The opposition is mobilizing support from around the nation to demonstrate their opposition to Chen and some have even said they would “capture him alive.”
The opposition is tense and the atmosphere is reminiscent of the situation surrounding the meeting between Chiang and Chen in Taipei in November last year.
Why is everyone so tense?
Most people probably don’t even know what the four issues to be discussed are — cross-strait cooperation on quarantine inspection of agricultural products, avoiding double taxation, cooperation on measurement and inspection certification and cooperation on cross-strait fishing boat crew services.
These are in fact quite unremarkable routine issues that very few people pay any attention to. Nor will Chiang and Chen spend any time discussing these matters because they were basically decided at the previous meeting. Signing the agreements is more or less a matter of formality.
If no one cares about these agreements, then what is upsetting the government and the public?
This concern highlights the lack of trust between the government and the opposition. The government worries that it will be unable to control the public and that the scenes from last year will be repeated.
The Chinese-language Commonwealth Magazine released an opinion poll showing that 61 percent of respondents worry that the government’s economic policy relies too heavily on China and 66 percent are displeased with President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). Despite these figures, the government monopolizes cross-strait policy. Neither the opposition nor the popularly elected legislature can interfere.
Legislative reviews of previous agreements were all delayed by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) on technical grounds and in the end went into effect by default. In the same way, all calls for referendums on important cross-strait agreements are falling on deaf ears.
The public has not been asked about important cross-strait agreements, either in direct referendums or through indirect consultation. Long pent up public concern has reached boiling point.
Chen’s visit to Taiwan provides a good opportunity for the public to vent their discontent and Chen may have to bear the brunt of their unhappiness with Ma’s high-handed ways and China’s overbearing attitude. In particular, the government’s unwillingness to explain what an economic cooperation and framework agreement (ECFA) entails and its stubborn insistence on signing it is causing public suspicion and fear, further strengthening people’s determination to display their discontent.
So long as the government does not fear exposing Chen to the national flag and so long as police do not use undue force and place too many restrictions on demonstrations, any protests that remain within what is legally permitted will likely end peacefully.
Following the government’s dismal performance in the recent local elections, they should be well aware of public dissatisfaction with government policy and its attitude. The government should cast off its elitism, take a good look at the demonstrations and listen to why the public is opposed to the meeting and why an ECFA worries them.