Wed, Aug 17, 2011 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Ma-China honeymoon seems over

One gets the distinct impression that China bails President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) out whenever he gets into trouble — when the economy is sluggish, China sends Chinese tourists and signs an economic pact with Taiwan; when farmers can’t find a market for their fruit, Beijing obliges; when Ma agrees not to challenge China on issues of sovereignty, he is offered a diplomatic truce.

However, the honeymoon between Ma and Beijing seems to be over, as the delays in negotiations over the investment protection agreement to be signed by Straits Exchange Foundation Chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) and China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) show.

The topic is slated for the seventh round of talks between the two. Taiwan hopes to discuss an international arbitration mechanism, but China regards investment protection issues as a purely domestic affair and doesn’t see the need for an international arbiter or application of the word “international.” It is therefore quite a contentious topic, one on which neither side’s negotiators are willing to compromise.

The resolution of any cross-strait investment protection disputes will involve judicial jurisdiction rights. In the absence of a third party to arbitrate, Taiwan will fall into Beijing’s trap of having the arbitration undertaken within Beijing’s preferred framework. The situation is even more sensitive with the presidential election looming. Ma’s campaign team wants the investment protection agreement signed to secure the votes of Taiwanese businesspeople in China, but the government also cannot compromise on sovereignty because that would hurt Ma’s chances of re-election.

Until now, the topics for cross-strait negotiations have been economic or cultural in nature. By avoiding politically sensitive issues, China has been able to give the impression of being friendly to Taiwan. However, the talks have been getting progressively more complex and far-reaching and they will only get tougher. If China concedes on economic benefits in certain areas, it expects Taiwan to pay the price by implementing political compromises.

Even if Beijing holds back for now, giving Ma the space he needs to secure a second term, Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) will want to see evidence that his policy of ensuring Ma serves two terms, if indeed he does, pays dividends before Hu himself cedes to his successor. This means that Beijing will be pushing Taiwan to come to the negotiating table.

The government is deluded in thinking that Beijing is always going to support Ma and that Ma can keep delaying the negotiations that China wants to see. If Ma is sincere about “eventual unification,” one would expect his second term to mark the beginning of the unification process. If he shies away from “eventual unification,” China will up the ante if he gets his second term. If the talks fail to materialize, hell hath no fury like Taiwan can expect from Beijing.

Beijing has no love for Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), but it doesn’t have any expectations of her, either. If Tsai is elected, there will be an initial period in which China observes what she does.

When voters weigh up which candidate to support, they might want to consider how far the politicians are likely to deviate from their rhetoric and how perilous this might be.

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