Ever since the government proposed the signing of an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) between Taiwan and China, every ECFA-related opinion poll has showed that public doubts over the issue have increased while support has continued to slide. It’s only natural the government finds this worrying and therefore offers more explanations on the issue, while the Chinese government has rushed to give up some of its benefits as a favor to Taiwan. The more explanations Taipei offers and the more Beijing agrees, the stronger the doubt among the public.
Why? Because the government’s approach to the ECFA talks includes many unreasonable conditions that appear very strange no matter how they are interpreted. One must never enter into trade talks saying that an agreement must be signed at any price and even setting a deadline for it. Doing so means giving up every bargaining chip one has. Somehow, the government remains oblivious to this.
In any trade negotiations, the parties involved evaluate the short and long-term impact on domestic industry and labor. This means the government must make concessions and compromises with its negotiating partner, while also informing and lobbying the domestic audience. This is why negotiations are often full of twists and turns and sometimes fail. In the ECFA talks, however, Beijing has continuously made concessions and constantly joins the Taiwanese government in assuring the public that Chinese labor and agricultural products will not be allowed into Taiwan, disregarding its own interests. This is unprecedented in the history of negotiation.
However, this is not strange at all, since China’s aim is to create “one China.” The ECFA talks nominally maintain a “one China” framework while in practice bringing Taiwan into China’s economic sphere as well as co-opting the public. This is key to China’s strategy of promoting unification through economic means and using business to bypass politics in order to infiltrate Taiwan and win the minds and hearts of Taiwanese. Its strategic and tactical goals are both clear and well-integrated and President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) plays along. Given this situation, it is clear that Beijing’s offer to forgo some of its benefits as a favor is simply bait to win over the public.
Ma constantly stresses the advantages of an ECFA and cooperates with Beijing to sell it to the public. The Ma administration has effectively stopped acting as a government, functioning instead as Beijing’s business representative in Taiwan. This alone erodes Ma’s credibility. Thus, instead of negotiating with China, the government is busy convincing the public to accept an ECFA. Beijing does not really plan to negotiate with Taipei either. It only wishes to further integrate Taiwan’s economic interests and tie its economic future tightly to China. What Beijing needs to figure out, then, is how many gifts it needs to offer to help Ma sign an ECFA and win the 2012 presidential election to ensure its strategies prevail.
This is the tragedy for Taiwanese. Beijing is the stronger power, while Taipei is like a businessman who only cares about the short-term interests of certain local industries and Taiwanese businesses investing in China. As it proudly brags about the Chinese gifts it brings, the Ma administration has given up on a national strategy for Taiwan. Today, the government is selling out Taiwan’s sovereignty and liberal democracy, and neglecting the widening income gap and rising unemployment rate. What is the Taiwanese public to do?