The result of the special municipality elections was quite surprising. The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) held steady, but looking at the overall vote result, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) can counterbalance the KMT and it has nothing to be downcast about. If the DPP is capable of earnestly and seriously discussing the factors behind its wins and losses, it will be able to do better in future.
The structure of the electorate and sudden pre-election events aside, we must admit that government support has stopped dropping following the signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA). It is conceivable that the opposition’s reaction to and handling of the ECFA is the key reason why the government has been able to pull itself back from the edge, when its approval ratings were hovering between 20 percent and 30 percent.
Ever since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) took office, the public has questioned his governing abilities, so the ECFA has been crucial because it shows that he has actually done something. However, since the ECFA is bit like a herbal tonic, it has side effects that will lead to residual defects if not accompanied by the right complimentary medication.
The KMT sees the agreement as the main prescription for reviving the economy, and maybe even a panacea, which explains why it seems to be ignoring the fact that implementation of the ECFA is sure to speed up structural unemployment, falling salaries and dependence upon China. It also ignored the fact that the agreement falls in line nicely with Beijing’s political and economic strategy toward Taiwan and allows Beijing the possibility of raising the stakes. Instead, the government handed Beijing a huge gift by conceding that there was “one China, with no need for either side to define its interpretation,” because at least that avoids Beijing expressly articulating its own interpretation.
This is just ridiculous. However, the pan-green camp has been vehemently opposed to the whole ECFA idea and that hasn’t been very helpful either.
When dealing with cross-strait trade it is important to strike the right balance between economic development, social justice — income distribution and employment — and autonomy, of both the political and economic kind. Of course, the DPP will tend to place more emphasis on the latter two, but they should bear in mind that, as an island economy, Taiwan is heavily reliant on trade with other countries. As such, they simply must take on board the various demands of industry and commerce.
The DPP’s approach should be based on three considerations. First, that China is Taiwan’s biggest trading partner, but current cross-strait trade norms and regulations do not adequately reflect this.
Second, the majority of companies in Taiwan fall into the small and medium-sized enterprises category, and have limited research and development (R&D) resources: They are obliged to look to other sources of innovation, send people overseas and learn from the skills and processes they return with, or to actively seek such skills and techniques from abroad.
Third, Taiwanese businesspeople are well placed, both compared with the Chinese in terms of both technology and awareness, and compared with other investors in the China market because of the lack of either a language or cultural barrier. We can’t afford not to look at things from their perspective.
When DPP legislators and the pro-green press take a comprehensively oppositional stance to cross-strait trade, we put off all kinds of people: those concerned about trade with China; competitive people; free-trade advocates and, in fact, the moderate majority. Our arguments lose their power as a result, because fewer people are willing to listen. What’s more, it is precisely this type of person that makes up the majority of the population of the big cities, so this was not helpful in the special municipality elections.
So, what should the DPP’s trade policy be? Well, first, it should center around the development of the knowledge industry, and should first and foremost reward R&D in the creative industries. Second, it should be globally oriented. Finally, any financial policy should be focused on employment and income distribution.
Among the various voices in the party on the issue of cross-strait trade, it should be possible to settle on a position that makes sense and that can proceed at a sensible pace. Some people are going to want to speed things up; others will be quite happy to keep things at a more measured pace for a few years. Still others will oppose it right to the bitter end. This might sound cumbersome and difficult to communicate to the public, but one must concede it is the responsible way for a party to behave.
If it does do it this way, the DPP’s cross-strait policy will be all the more persuasive as a consequence and that bit more appealing to “economic voters,” to borrow a phrase from former DPP chairman Hsu Hsin-liang (許信良).
In the next legislative and presidential elections, the cross-strait situation in general, and cross-strait trade in particular, are sure to be decisive issues. The DPP really only has a decade of experience from which to draw. It must keep up with the times if it is to be perceived as the choice that is going to be in the best interests of Taiwan. This is the only way it is going to be able to return to government.
Lee Wen-chung is a former Democratic Progressive Party legislator.
TRANSLATED BY PERRY SVENSSON AND PAUL COOPER
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