In addition, cross-strait exchanges and the degree of economic and trade reliance were nowhere near as involved back then as they are now.
The government proposes deregulating sectors in China that Taiwanese companies were allowed to invest in to allow Chinese companies into Taiwan, and to relax current conditions and contingencies.
The minute it allows this, it will open the floodgates to the might of the world’s second-largest economy (last year, China spent as much as US$65.2 billion on overseas mergers and acquisitions).
Chinese officials will be able to exploit this investment to influence Taiwan’s technological talent and economic institutions and force the government to further relax the restrictions in place.
When this happens, it will not be as simple as some Taiwanese government officials say — that companies might have a Chinese boss instead of a Taiwanese one — but rather Taiwan will sacrifice its sovereignty in the end. This is the result the public is most fearful of.
Neither are these concerns unfounded: It is not a case of Chicken Little fearing the sky is falling when an acorn lands on its head.
If the government wants to disperse the current controversy over the service trade agreement, it should take concrete action — through two-way communication — to convince the public that the government will be able to keep things under control and to mitigate any losses that may occur.
The principle of fairness is one of the pillars of free trade. The reason some sectors — publishing and printing, entertainment, hair and beauty among them — have raised objections to the proposals is that it is difficult to see evidence of fairness in the service trade agreement given the considerable differences between Taiwan and China in terms of the playing field, their economic situations and the sheer size of their economies.
Of course, it is often the case that trade is unfair, but the important thing is that both partners gain some benefit from it. The Taiwanese economy essentially consists of predominantly private enterprises existing in a free market economy with few restrictions.
China operates a government-controlled market with its own game rules, and doing business there involves submitting to certain restrictions, including obtaining government approval, operating in specific areas and according to specific practices, and other regulations on the administrative level.
The public has yet to receive any concrete explanations or assurances from any government official to dispel any concerns they may have. The government still has much to do on furthering its negotiations with China to cater to the public’s wishes before it can gain their support for the agreement.
The jobs of many of the more vulnerable people are at stake in these negotiations. Government officials need to be more prudent and attentive and show a little more empathy.
To ensure that it obtains the best deal for Taiwanese, the government needs to set aside its posturing and communicate with legislators from all parties, as well as with civic groups and non-governmental organizations, to work toward the greatest common ground and the best ways to help those most affected. Only then will it be able to clear away all the obstacles in its path.
Hopefully, the government will learn from this experience, establish a more open, transparent way of negotiating and reinforce legislative oversight so that Taiwan can pull itself out of its current malaise and continue on its way forward.