Fri, Jan 15, 2010 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL : Selling snake oil to the electorate

In recent weeks, the government has begun to resemble a snake oil salesman in its frantic efforts to promote a so-called panacea for Taiwan’s economy — an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) that it is determined to sign with China.

In the months since the agreement was floated, the government has used a number of tactics to promote the pact, including an ethnically stereotyped cartoon, sleep-inducing public forums and, more recently, talk of enlisting the help of a thug politician to preach the ECFA gospel to a population that remains unconvinced.

The most successful tactic, however, appears to be repetition of the notion that following the signing of an ECFA, China will be willing to let Taiwan sign free-trade agreements with other countries.

As the adage goes: “Repeat a lie a thousand times” and eventually someone will start to believe.

One individual who seems to be unaware of this ruse is US-Taiwan Business Council president Rupert Hammond-Chambers, who this week said the signing of an ECFA “would dramatically reduce the ability of the Chinese to oppose Taiwan making other regional agreements.”

It would be interesting to know what the reasoning behind Hammond-Chambers’ statement was, because so far there is not a shred of evidence to support that claim.

At no point since an ECFA was first mentioned has a Chinese official said that Beijing would stop blocking Taiwan’s efforts to sign trade pacts with other nations. In fact, the opposite is more likely true; countless Chinese officials have gone on record saying that an ECFA is one more step toward unification.

It is hard to believe that China will acquiesce to such a request from Taipei when Beijing continues to block attempts by Taiwan to join UN special agencies. Last month in Copenhagen, a Chinese delegate openly opposed Taiwan’s participation as an observer in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, citing the “one China” principle.

Even in the international bodies in which China grudgingly tolerates Taiwan’s presence, such as the WTO and the World Bank, Taiwan fights a constant battle to block efforts by Chinese officials to downgrade its status.

If any reminder is needed about China’s intentions, one only need refer to a recent e-mail sent by World Bank vice president and corporate secretary Kristalina Georgieva, who reminded her colleagues that because China is a member of the bank’s institutions, “Taiwan, China” must be used “on all occasions.”

In fact, the sole crumb of Chinese “goodwill” that has succored President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) during the 20 months of his administration was the shady, underhanded deal that resulted in Taipei’s participation in last year’s WHA, details of which have never been released.

Come May, China may well sign an ECFA and Taiwan may well claim that the deal adheres to the “WTO framework.” You can rest assured, however, that Beijing will not allow any language into the agreement that infers Taiwanese statehood. Once signed, it will be back to business for Beijing, belittling Taiwan at every opportunity.

Only then will those who believed Ma’s claims that Beijing would have a change of heart will come to realize that they, too, have been taken in by the biggest snake oil salesman of them all.

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