The cross-strait service trade agreement has been met with a vitriolic reaction from the public. It is time to step back and look at what has happened in a more objective way. The policy was conceived with the intention of boosting Taiwan’s stalled economy. Even though it was not thought through very well, the government’s foresight and efforts should perhaps be acknowledged.
However, the government should be thinking about why every new policy it announces brings public anger and opposition, especially when it insists on courting more controversy when the public backlash is at its height. The only way to address this is to show some goodwill to the public by responding quickly to reactions from it.
Take the controversy surrounding the cross-strait service trade agreement as an example. When the government wants to promote policies similar to that in the future, it should consider the following three points:
First, deal with the core issues. Two major problems with the Taiwanese economy currently are the stagnation of salaries and a difficult employment environment. The advantage of the service trade agreement is that it will help Taiwanese businesses expand into the Chinese market. The problem is that the agreement and its advantage will be of limited use in solving the twin problems of salaries and employment.
Second, the government has to do comprehensive research before it launches a policy and it has to communicate clearly with the public what it is planning. No policy is ever perfect, which makes adequate preparation crucial. It is essential to devise policy that fits the objectives and not to make the objectives fall in line with the policy. As the Chinese saying goes: “It is no good shooting the arrow and then painting on the target.”
It is human nature to fear the unknown, so the government must fully communicate — with the public, with companies and with the opposition parties — what it is attempting to do before it implements a policy.
Third, even if the Taiwanese economy has not performed as well over the past few years as it had previously, it is not doing so badly: Taiwan has the 27th-largest nominal GDP in the world, according to IMF figures.
There is no need, then, for Taiwanese to be unduly pessimistic or hard on themselves. All that is needed is for the government to address the core problems with the policies they introduce from now on, to govern in a way more conducive to the needs of the general public and to be more transparent in its decisionmaking process. If these goals are achieved, Taiwan’s economy will take off once more.
Much major policy, from the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) to the more recent cross-strait service agreement, has been introduced to help local businesses expand into the international market, but are of little benefit when it comes to solving the important issues causing Taiwan’s domestic economic malaise — income level stagnation and a difficult jobs market.
Given that the trajectory of the policies the government has set is not working in terms of solving these core problems, if the government cannot amend its course — and quickly — to get policy more in line with the needs of the people, then it will be difficult to get the nation out of its current predicament in which the administration is working itself into the ground, but can do nothing right in the eyes of the public.