“Welcome to China” — the greeting I received at the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) National Policy Foundation in January is symptomatic of current cross-strait developments in Taiwan. The government’s cross-strait package of technical agreements and the forthcoming economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) will drain Taiwan’s political energy and divert attention away from other key matters for years to come. This is unavoidable as the government’s policies are out of touch with reality. Indeed, they blindly inflate divisions instead of attempting to unify people in Taiwan’s divided society.
The cross-strait package also diverts attention from efforts to inform others about what Taiwan can bring to the world. Instead, an increasing amount of hard work is now being spent to correct misunderstandings about Taiwan in Europe. For example, an ECFA is believed to be an approach that fits with the EU’s “one China” policy.
All this is worrying. The package is planned as the start of a long journey that will result in the integration of Taiwan with China. The deal is also a key element in moving towards the KMT’s envisioned common market with China. However, it does not help Taiwan to start such a long journey by dividing instead of uniting Taiwanese society or by pretending it is Chinese.
It can only lead to increased divisions when the government wants to sign an agreement with China under the highly disputed “1992 consensus,” or when the issue of sovereignty is fudged by portraying the two countries as two “areas” under the outdated 1947 Constitution of the Republic of China and states that this is what makes ECFA possible. No unification agenda could possibly meet the realities of today. Most importantly, Taiwanese have not given their approval.
From a Taiwan-centered perspective, the government ought to make use of its seat at the WTO and initiate negotiations between official government institutions. China should accept such an approach as it chose not to discuss the political content of the “one China” policy in talks on pragmatic issues during negotiations in the early 1990s.
The current dialogue will not reduce tensions in the long run because neither side can really give the other what it wants — China can hardly give Taiwan real international space while Ma is constrained by Taiwan’s democracy and cannot give China what it really wants, sovereignty over Taiwan.
It is also questionable whether China is in any urgent economic need of an ECFA. China’s agenda is politically motivated and thus sets political goals above economics. In other words, the current economic deal is intended to give China political influence in Taiwan.
The European Parliament and its Taiwan Friendship Group seem to be blithely ignorant of what is happening or that they are supporting China when they praise the current dialogue without mentioning the Taiwanese people’s democratic right to self-determination. There is no valid excuse for being unaware of the current debate in Taiwan or that sovereignty lies at its core. Additionally, few voices have been raised about the worrying political developments taking place in Taiwan. Instead of uniting European opinion, Taipei has sent mixed signals emphasizing how equal Taiwan and China are rather than focusing on Taiwan’s uniqueness.
This journey is likely to end in disappointment for the EU, China and the KMT, and divide Taiwanese society. Self-determination is the only way forward and a referendum on an ECFA would be a respectful and democratic step towards uniting Taiwan. In the short term, Ma’s agenda will marginalize Taiwan in the international community and all but push the country into China’s very undemocratic sphere of influence — “Welcome to China.”
Michael Danielsen is chairman of Taiwan Corner.
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