It now seems the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) are at an impasse on the cross-strait service trade agreement. Yet the issue is simply too important, Taiwanese need to know what the implications of the agreement are, and some way must be found to break the deadlock between the two parties.
A debate between President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) is the most effective way forward. However, each wants something different from it.
Ma wants to get away from the quagmire of domestic politics and to return to the cross-strait arena, his comfort zone. Su hopes to dispel doubts over his own leadership and regain the authority befitting the leader of the opposition party.
Each man is convinced that he has the upper hand.
Ma believes he has more authority over the issue; Su believes he has better oratorical skills. Both are confident of victory, and both welcome the debate.
Taiwanese are not concerned with whether Ma and Su accomplish what they want. They are concerned with whether Ma and Su can provide answers on aspects of the trade pact they have yet to address.
The kerfuffle on the agreement has been going on for two months, meaning the public is familiar with its key issues and with the parties’ stances. If the debate merely consists of both sides sticking to their party lines, avoiding the serious issues and not reflecting on the points they are most often questioned on, the significance of this crucial debate will be undermined.
Ma and Su each have specific answers they need to provide.
Ma first needs to account for why the decisionmaking process entailed closed-door meetings, and explain how the negotiations can be more effectively monitored.
Second, he needs to explain how the government will assist those industries affected by the agreement and how it plans to deal with challenges posed by Chinese businesses and Beijing.
Third, after the agreement is inked, what will be done to sign free-trade agreements (FTAs) with other countries?
Fourth, given that the agreement will further cross-strait trade, how will the government avoid Taiwan’s economy being locked onto the Chinese economy?
Su, for his part, needs to account for how Taiwan will deal with the challenge posed by South Korea, given that it has already signed FTAs with 45 countries.
Second, given that South Korea and China could sign an FTA next year, much earlier than was originally expected, how should Taiwan respond?
Third, Su needs to clarify how the DPP is to respond now that many countries have expressed reluctance to sign agreements with Taiwan until China has.
Fourth, Su is opposed to the agreement now, but should he be elected, will he accept it in government?
The only way the debate can convince people is if all parties move beyond party politics. However, if all Ma and Su do is regurgitate party lines and repeat the attacks we have seen pro-blue and pro-green media launch, the debate will be useless and will only worsen the current deadlock between the parties.
Ma and Su must both realize that the only way to benefit the public’s perception of them and to solve the crisis facing the nation is to elevate the level of the debate. After all, after the debate itself there will be a further 16 public hearings in the Legislative Yuan. If the leaders themselves are incapable of stepping up to the occasion, how can we expect the public hearings led by KMT and DPP legislators to contain any real, sincere discourse?