Sun, Oct 23, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Peace accord an electoral gamble

By Liu Shih-chung 劉世忠

In the run-up to the January elections, President Ma Ying-jeou(馬英九) on Monday made a new campaign move by promising voters that, if elected, he would seriously consider pushing forward the signing of a peace accord with the People’s Republic of China within the next decade. Along with this, he stressed three “preconditions,” namely strong domestic support, a clear national need and legislative approval.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) criticized Ma’s new statements as “reckless, simplistic and inconsistent” and said they would jeopardize Taiwan’s sovereignty, change the “status quo” across the Taiwan Strait, endanger Taiwan’s democracy and undermine regional and strategic balance.

Facing huge doubts, even from his own camp, Ma further pledged that the government would obtain public approval through a referendum or evaluate the results of public polls before pushing for such a pact with China.

Ma’s new elaboration should be seen as more of an electoral scheme and political gamble than a well-calculated and well-prepared policy initiative to forge a peace accord.

First, Ma intends to frame the election debate and set the agenda in the next three months on cross-strait relations in a way that favors him over Tsai, who is the DPP’s presidential candidate. Ma’s camp understands that Tsai has focused her campaign on social justice and equality by highlighting his poor performance, economic backwardness and the widening gap between the rich and poor. Therefore, Ma needs to shift voter attention to cross-strait affairs, while at the same time continuing his smear campaign against Tsai and her running mate, Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全).

However, as indicated by the way Ma and his administration single-handedly pushed forward the signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with Beijing, he took advantage of his mandate from the 2008 victory, as well as his party’s absolute control of the legislative branch, to negotiate the agreement with his Chinese counterpart.

The “three preconditions” Ma attached to the potential peace accord talk are merely the same justifications that were used in the ECFA campaign. If Ma is re-elected and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) continues to control the majority in the Legislative Yuan, his new government would be able to manipulate public polls or justify its action for negotiation on a peace accord.

Second, the idea of embracing a referendum is a huge political gamble by Ma. When the DPP was in power, then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) introduced three referendums in 2004 and 2008. All met with a strong backlash from the KMT, including Ma, the administration of then-US president George W. Bush and Beijing.

Not only has the KMT long been characterizing referendums as a “political taboo,” but Ma also opposed public calls for a referendum on the ECFA after he came to office. This about-face displayed Ma’s election-driven mentality and does not represent sincere respect for democratic mechanisms such as referendums.

Third, what is even riskier is that Ma’s discussion of a peace accord did not go through extensive evaluation on the possible impact it might have on Taiwan’s national interests. No details have been provided in terms of who would play the arbitrator if one side broke the deal. No requests have been made for Beijing to renounce its policy of using force against Taiwan or to dismantle its missiles targeting Taiwan and the region. Not to mention that Beijing has no interest in a peace accord.

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