Government departments should think over their past performance in this regard to avoid making the same mistakes in forthcoming regional trade negotiations.
Sometimes it takes a step back to go forward. If President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) thinks that the service trade agreement will greatly benefit the economy, he can avoid wasting further time and energy by announcing that he is in favor of letting the agreement be freely and fairly investigated.
He should let the public participate in overseeing the agreement. If he does that and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators are still unwilling to judge the agreement on its merits and instead insist on a pointless boycott, the public will surely view them with contempt.
There is still quite a lot of time to spare before the end of June — the deadline that Ma set for approving the service trade agreement.
Encouraging public participation would be better than leaving it to media pundits to trumpet their various interpretations, which only create greater misunderstandings between the two sides.
It would be a good idea to use the media to hold a number of public debates about the trade agreement. Academics, experts and legislators from the supporting and opposing sides, as well as student representatives and business interests, could be invited to share the platform, speak their minds and cross-examine one another.
The more the matter is debated, the truer a picture people will have of the agreement.
After all, Taiwan is a rational and mature society made up of well-educated people. After listening to one or two such debates, people should be able to judge for themselves whether they should support the agreement as it stands or call for supplements and amendments to the pact. That would be a good way to resolve the present stalemate.
Joining regional economic agreements involves complicated adjustments to business structures and it also calls for intricate negotiating strategies.
The government must make sufficient preparations and communicate fully with the public. It would be a mistake to think that it can always force the public to toe the line by playing the fear card.
There are plenty of examples of negotiations from around the world that Taiwan can use for reference. Today’s telecommunications and broadcasting speeds are faster and more advanced than ever before.
Communications are the most important tool in today’s world, so Ma should tell government officials to dispense with the old Confucian notion that “the people may be made to follow a path of action, but they may not be made to understand it.”
Bureaucrats need to set aside their airs of grandeur and listen carefully to what ordinary people are saying. That is the only way to prevent policies from running up against all kinds of obstacles and delays and achieving nothing in the end.
If government officials do not change their attitude, the nation will miss the opportunity to undergo the transformations that it needs, and the game will end up with no real winner.
That is not an outcome that anyone who cares about Taiwan wants to see.
Du Yu is chief executive officer of the Chen-Li Task Force for Agricultural Reform.
Translated by Julian Clegg