The signature campaign for the petition to initiate a referendum on the signing of an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China launched by the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) along with 50 other associations is coming along smoothly. It passed the initial threshold of 86,000 signatures in a very short time and without waiting for the Central Election Committee’s decision, the campaign is now proceeding to the second stage, which requires 860,000 signatures.
It is perhaps this development, along with public anger, that has now caused the government to have a strategic change of heart. First, Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) said that he “doesn’t oppose referendums,” while Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Secretary-General King Pu-tsung (金溥聰) added that “the KMT would not object nor would President Ma [Ying-jeou (馬英九)].”
Although there are still some reasons to suspect political scheming, this development is a welcome one. This change shows that the government is aware of what is going on and that there has been some kind of response.
The government has said it opposes a referendum on the ECFA issue. The official Web site of the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) publicly states, “there are many ways for public participation. Public meetings and public opinion polls are feasible options.” However, referendums are not the “only choice” and “considering international convention and domestic majority support for an ECFA, there is probably no need to waste national resources by organizing a referendum.”
Ma and Wu’s public statements against a referendum are too numerous to record here. The fact is that Ma has never agreed to hold a referendum on the proposed ECFA.
Judging from the government’s frequent insincerity, it would be meaningless to try to find out why Wu and King are lying. However, it would be worth investigating what kind of ECFA referendum the KMT does not object to. King has set the tone for this issue by saying the KMT would not object to a referendum if the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) still insisted on one after the legislature has reviewed the agreement. Based on the DPP’s original insistence on a referendum, this means that the KMT would object if Taiwan’s citizenry had first demanded a referendum on an ECFA and that the result of that referendum would decide if the people would authorize the government to negotiate an ECFA. This is not only arrogant, but also an unambiguous violation of the Referendum Act (公民投票法).
The wounds caused by the KMT government signing the beef import protocol with the US in August last year are still felt. Although the referendum proposal launched by the Consumers’ Foundation already passed the first threshold and the legislature banned the import of cow organs, the government still inked the protocol with the US. This is not only harmful to Taiwan’s international reputation, but the remedial measures are also insufficient, as the US has declared that it will export beef tongues and testes to Taiwan.
Even worse, the government accepts no blame. The health minister even suggested that people could choose not to eat these products and the economic minister said in the legislature that such beef parts were legal. These people are crossing their fingers and asking us to hope for the best. This is proof that the government is incapable of carrying out international negotiations and defending the rights of the Taiwanese public. And then the KMT still has the gall to say that it will sign an ECFA agreement with China before putting it to the legislature?
The ECFA referendum is a serious issue that involves both Taiwan’s sovereignty and legal issues and politicians must not be allowed to interfere. The Referendum Act clearly states that: “For the national referendum, this Act shall apply to the following matters: 1) Referendum of laws; 2) Initiative of legislative principles; 3) Initiative or referendum of important policies.” It is not difficult to see how despotic and reactionary the government is on this issue when it suggests the DPP could initiate a referendum if it’s still not happy after the ECFA has been reviewed by the legislature.
Some opinion polls show that 70 percent of respondents agree that the proposed ECFA should be put to a referendum. Ma likes to repeat that no free-trade agreement (FTA) in the world has been submitted to a referendum before being signed, but in fact many countries participating in the economic integration of the EU have put the issue of participation to a referendum. Ma argues that the FTAs signed by the previous DPP government with five other countries weren’t agreed to by the public in a referendum either. Those FTAs, however, were signed by the leaders of the countries concerned and the Taiwanese president. Can the same be said about a trade pact with China, whose leaders do not recognize the Taiwanese government?
What other countries in the world make it a mission to sign an FTA with a country that has 1,500 missiles pointing at it? And what other country seeks to ink an FTA on a condition similar to the idea that “everything can be discussed under a ‘one China’ principle?” Is that the case of ASEAN Plus One (China)?
Ma must give serious thought to using a referendum to resolve opposition. If the referendum results in an endorsement of an ECFA, those opposed to an ECFA must of course accept the result. However, if Ma is concerned that the referendum might not pass, he should spend more time convincing the public and wait until there is consensus before discussing the issue again.
There is of course a big risk that the government will sign the proposed ECFA in the same way it forced through the signing of the US beef protocol. Let’s not forget that the beef debacle was followed by a series of KMT electoral defeats. Furthermore, the referendum on the US beef issue is still in process.
If the government does the same with an ECFA and rushes to sign it before a referendum is held, it will only anger the public even more and make the situation worse. We can easily imagine where that would leave the KMT.
TRANSLATED BY TAIJING WU
Chinese strongman Xi Jinping (習近平) hasn’t had a very good spring, either economically or politically. Not that long ago, he seemed to be riding high. The PRC economy had been on a long winning streak of more than six percent annual growth, catapulting the world’s most populous nation into the second-largest power, behind only the United States. Hundreds of millions had been brought out of poverty. Beijing’s military too had emerged as the most powerful in Asia, lagging only behind the US, the long-time leader on the global stage. One can attribute much of the recent downturn to the international economic
Asked whether he declined to impose sanctions against China, US President Donald Trump said: “Well, we were in the middle of a major trade deal... [W]hen you’re in the middle of a negotiation and then all of a sudden you start throwing additional sanctions on — we’ve done a lot.” It was not a proud moment for Trump or the US. Yet, just three days later, John Bolton’s replacement as director of the National Security Council, Robert O’Brien, delivered a powerful indictment of the Chinese communist government and criticized prior administrations’ “passivity” in the face of Beijing’s contraventions of international law
In an opinion piece, Chang Jui-chuan (張睿銓) suggested that Taiwan focus its efforts not on making citizens “bilingual,” but on building a robust translation industry, as Japan has done (“The social cost of English education,” June 29, page 6). Although Chang makes some good points — Taiwan could certainly improve its translation capabilities — the nation needs a different sort of pivot: from bilingualism to multilingualism. There are reasons why Japan might not be the most suitable role model for the nation’s language policy. Bluntly put, Japan’s status in the world is unquestioned. The same cannot be said of Taiwan. Many confuse