Following the signing of a cross-strait service trade agreement in Shanghai on June 21, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has been voicing strong opposition. However, a close look at sectors in which the two sides of the Taiwan Strait have opened up reveals that China has opened up 80 items to Taiwan — more than it pledged to do when it joined the WTO — while Taiwan has opened up 64 items to China — mostly equal to or less than Taiwan promised when it joined the WTO. With respect to the overall results of the negotiations, China has clearly made concessions, while Taiwan is getting more than it is giving away.
There are bound to be winners and losers as a result of any free-trade agreement (FTA). In this particular case, business sectors that are likely to suffer a greater impact, such as hairdressing and printing, are asking the opposition parties to help them out.
The government, for its part, has not done enough to assess the agreement’s potential impact on business, or to communicate with business owners, so the wave of protests comes as no surprise.
The DPP has taken up position on the front line, saying that the cross-strait service trade agreement will have an impact on 7 million people’s livelihoods. The party has pledged to fight the agreement all the way.
However, let us not forget what happened in 2010, when the DPP led 150,000 people on a protest march to oppose signing the cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA). DPP lawmakers even resorted to fisticuffs when the legislature held a vote on the pact, but the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) still used its majority to push through approval of the ECFA.
As it turned out, when last year’s presidential election came around, the DPP needed to show that it was not going to change the “status quo” in cross-strait relations if its candidate got elected. So it promised to respect the ECFA and take on all rights and responsibilities.
Since then, the DPP has followed a fixed pattern in reacting to any cross-strait agreement signed by the KMT government. It says a big “no” to all such agreements before they are signed, but once they have been inked, agrees to abide by them. That is how the DPP reacted to the ECFA and to the opening up of cross-strait transport and communication links.
It is foreseeable that it will proceed in the same way in relation to the cross-strait service trade agreement and indeed to Taiwan and China’s establishment of mutual representative offices.
Why can the DPP never stick to its guns? Why does it always end up abandoning its original position for the sake of winning elections?
The main reason is that it is difficult to weigh up the pluses and minuses of any proposed agreement. To make matters worse, once an agreement is signed, the political pressures associated with it will go into reverse, making it very hard for a candidate who originally opposed the FTA to go on doing so.
Before an FTA is signed, businesses that stand to benefit tend to keep their approval to themselves and not make too much of a fuss about it, or speak out in defense of the government. So, one tends not to hear many voices in favor of the agreement.
In contrast, businesses that stand to lose out will be keen to link up with opposition parties and loudly object to the government, thus amplifying opposition.