Although it sparked an angry response on Thursday night, the Executive Yuan’s Referendum Review Committee’s decision to turn down a proposal by the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) for a referendum on an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China wasn’t exactly a surprise.
In fact, months ago members of the Alliance of Referendum for Taiwan were telling this newspaper that they did not expect the referendum proposal would be accepted, even if it was perfectly legal and met all relevant benchmarks.
While this could be construed as a cynical, if not politicized, reason for submitting a proposal to the committee, it also reflects the current state of affairs in Taiwan, whereby the ability to keep the government honest and, when necessary, in check, is seemingly under assault.
While the current legal threshold for holding a referendum is unworkably high, there is every indication that even meeting those requirements under President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration would be insufficient to derail or, at minimum, slow down, a process that has developed in a largely undemocratic fashion.
Shooting down the proposal on the grounds that it addresses a matter the content of which is unknown is an insult to everybody’s intelligence, as the only reason the content of the agreement is unknown is that the negotiations have been conducted in secret.
The TSU has said that it intends to resubmit a proposal, but by this point doing so is more a matter of further discrediting the Ma administration than an honest effort to secure a referendum.
With the referendum option for all intents and purposes dead in the water, the last remaining democratic tool to ensure that an ECFA meets the nation’s needs and does not undermine its sovereignty is the legislature. Following comments by the Chinese foreign ministry earlier this week that Beijing would not allow Taiwan to sign free-trade agreements with other countries after an ECFA is inked — one of Ma’s main selling points on the matter — it is now more important than ever that there be some form of monitoring of the executive and non-elected officials involved in negotiations with Beijing on the trade pact.
Sadly, though, the one person who has the power to ensure that the legislature remains a credible check on the executive appears to have abdicated his responsibilities. Granted, given the pan-blue camp majority in the legislature, Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) faces a tremendous challenge in making this body more than a rubber-stamp for the executive.
However, for an ECFA to be legitimate and acceptable to an increasingly skeptical public, bipartisan, chapter-by-chapter debate on the contents of the trade pact — and revisions, where revisions are needed — is imperative. Wang himself, quoting a Council of Grand Justices statement, has said that an ECFA is not a treaty, but rather an “administrative agreement,” which means that the legislature has, under the Constitution, the power to make amendments. (If it were a treaty, the legislature could only say “yes” or “no” to a piecemeal document.) Interestingly, while Washington has limited means by which to exert pressure on the Taiwanese executive, it has far more influence at the legislative level and could pressure, if not counsel, Wang and his aides.
Whether this materializes is largely contingent on Wang deciding to use his authority, even if this entails picking a fight with the executive. A legislature that avoids battles with the executive — which is pretty much what it has done since Ma came to power more than two years ago — is not doing its job.
The very raison d’etre of a legislative body is its contentiousness. Unless it is to go the way of the referendum drive, Wang’s legislature must take its responsibilities more seriously.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday last week, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei City Councilor Hsu Chiao-hsin (徐巧芯) wrote: “The KMT must fall for Taiwan to improve.’ Allow me to ask the question again: Is this really true?” It matters not how many times Hsu asks the question, my answer will always be the same: “Yes, the KMT must be toppled for Taiwan to improve.” In the lengthy Facebook post, titled “What were those born in the 1980s guilty of?” Hsu harked back to the idealistic aspirations of the 2014 Sunflower movement before heaping opprobrium on the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP)
The scuffle between Chinese embassy staffers in Fiji and a Taiwanese diplomat at a Republic of China (ROC) Double Ten National Day celebration has turned into a public relations opportunity for the government, Beijing and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). Although the incident occurred on Oct. 8, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) downplayed it, only for the story to be picked up by the foreign media, forcing the ministry to respond. The public and opposition parties asked why the government had failed to remonstrate more strongly in the first instance. It is still unclear whether the ministry missed a trick
US President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival, former US vice president Joe Biden, are holding their final debate tonight. In their foreign policy debate, China is sure to be a major issue of contention for the two candidates. Here are several questions the moderator should pose to the candidates: For both: In the first televised US presidential debates in 1960, then-Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy and his Republican counterpart, Richard Nixon, were asked whether the US should intervene if communist China attacked Taiwan’s outlying islands of Kinmen and Matsu. Kennedy said no, unless the main island of Taiwan was also attacked.
For most of us, the colorful, otherworldly marinescapes of coral reefs are as remote as the alien landscapes of the moon. We rarely, if ever, experience these underwater wonderlands for ourselves — we are, after all, air-breathing, terrestrial creatures mostly cocooned in cities. It is easy not to notice the perilous state they are in: We have lost 50 percent of coral reefs in the past 20 years and more than 90 percent are expected to die by 2050, a presentation at the Ocean Sciences Meeting in San Diego, California, earlier this year showed. As the oceans heat further and