The administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has drawn criticism from all sides for its handling of the US beef issue, failing to please either the American or the Taiwanese public. This, however, has not compelled the government to change its ways. Ma’s team is still determined to sign an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China without public consultation.
Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) has announced that the government will start preliminary talks with China on the issue this month and hopes to have the ECFA signed in May. He said the government would decide on further easing of restrictions on investment in China by Taiwanese businesses toward the end of this month.
Wu’s announcement disregards the government’s earlier pledge that it would sign an ECFA only when public support surpasses 60 percent. This highlights the administration’s determination to hastily negotiate and sign an ECFA in the space of four or five months, regardless of public opposition or apprehension.
Negotiations between parties on an equal footing, for the benefit of all, would take longer. Surrender is faster, and that is what the Ma administration is doing in regard to this pact.
No one can doubt that the signing of an ECFA would herald a new wave of relocations to China by Taiwanese manufacturers. Judging from Wu’s remarks, the government is keen to see Taiwan’s capital-intensive, high-tech industries moving to China even before an ECFA is signed. Ironically, this comes only a week after Ma proclaimed in his New Year’s address that now is the best time to invest in Taiwan.
Ma and his ministers saying one thing while doing another is hardly news, but by playing the same game again right at the beginning of the new year, the government has revealed just how obsessed it is with cozying up to China.
They must take the public for fools.
Perhaps the most poorly considered policy approach since Ma took office is that of looking to China — and China alone — for economic opportunity. Direct cross-strait flights and communications, opening the gates to Chinese tourists, easing restrictions on Chinese investment in Taiwan and allowing Chinese financial institutions to set up shop here — all this has made Taiwan increasingly dependent on China economically.
Looking to China for solutions, however, has not delivered Ma’s promise to invigorate the economy. Taiwan’s overall economic performance is still bottom of the class. While the memorandum of understanding on cooperation in financial supervision signed in November and the ECFA have been touted by the government under the banners of “taking full advantage of the Chinese market” and “taking part in regional integration,” in reality they may lure Taiwan into a trap, with nothing gained and so much to lose.
As Taiwan’s factories, funds, talent and technology are sucked dry, Taiwan is likely to end up as a second Hong Kong, with its economy, security and sovereignty dependent entirely on China. That being the case, an ECFA should be subject to approval not just by the legislature, but also by the public through a referendum.
Most Taiwanese would agree that China is not a reliable country. Only the government, bound by its pro-unification ideology, could think otherwise. Do other countries think China can be relied on economically? Does hope for reviving the world economy really lie with a rising China, as some suggest?