Now cross-strait links are in operation and the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) has been signed, but Taiwan’s economy is nonetheless one of the worst performers in East Asia, and Taiwan is still in a tight spot diplomatically.
The conditions written into the ECFA and direct links agreements have caused Taiwan’s economy to run up against conflicts of interest between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait and suffer a detrimental, though not obvious, impact as a result. Consequently, the government has backed off from its goals of signing a cross-strait peace agreement and setting up a mechanism for mutual trust in military matters. Cross-strait cooperation has broken down on issues like China sending groups of officials to Taiwan to set up business deals, the proposed joint development of Pingtan County (平潭) in China’s Fujian Province, and cultural projects like the coproduction of a film about the war of resistance against Japan, and celebrating the centenary of the 1911 Xinhai Revolution.
During debates between the candidates standing for January’s presidential election, the DPP’s Tsai advocated emulating South Korea’s policy of approaching China in step with the rest of the world, for example by signing free-trade agreements with the EU and US first and leaving China until later. Ma still showed his China-friendly colors by arguing that approaching the world through China was the right way to go. Nevertheless, the two leading officials he had originally picked to oversee his policy of depending entirely on China politically and economically were out of the game long before the election, Su having resigned in 2010 and Siew still in office as vice president, but really on ice. This shows that Ma has realized that the although China factor cannot be taken lightly, Taiwan has no future if it depends solely on China.
Following the election, political commentator Nan Fang Shuo (南方朔) strongly recommended that Taiwan should start following the South Korean strategy instead of leaning so heavily on China. Ma’s actions demonstrate that he has taken this advice to heart, even if he does not say so. His government’s insistence on deregulating imports of US beef is evidence of this change of direction.
Although the details of the government’s industrial policy are still unclear, it has already laid down a framework through this recent deployment of top officials. In her new post as Taiwan’s envoy to the WTO, Lai is tasked with taking Taiwan into the international community in economics and trade, while King has been given a similar pioneering role in foreign relations.
If Ma has really recognized his past errors and is willing to and capable of setting them right, that is definitely something to be welcomed. However, the DPP’s failures when it was in government show that simply heading in the right direction is not enough.
The Ma administration will also have to work hard on formulating suitable industrial policies, and it will need the determination to see those policies through.
Lin Cho-shui is a former Democratic Progressive Party legislator.
Translated by Julian Clegg