A lot of things can be done in 30 seconds. For example, brushing your teeth, placing an order for sun cakes or racing to a ticket counter before it closes.
However, until Monday last week, you would not imagine that list would include clearing the legislative review of a trade pact that matters to the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese.
Yet, absurdly, that is exactly what happened on Monday last week, when Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chang Ching-chung (張慶忠), with co-conveners of the legislature’s Internal Administration Committee, slated a mere 30 seconds to inspect the controversial cross-strait service trade pact as part of their effort to rush the accord through the committee review and move it to a floor session.
Chang’s move not only failed to honor the consensus to have the pact undergo an item-by-item review by the committee — a decision reached by all party caucuses in June last year — it also constituted a great blow against Taiwanese democracy and became a catalyst of the rage that drove student protesters to occupy the legislative chamber on Tuesday last week. The protesters are calling for Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) to nullify Chang’s decision and demanding that President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration withdraw the pact and institute a law governing supervision by the Legislative Yuan of all cross-strait agreements.
The stalemate between the student protesters and Ma still continues after more than a week. However, in one respect, the student movement has been successful: It has inspired public discourse and brought to national attention one core issue that until now has been much neglected — the need for an item-by-item review of the cross-strait service trade pact.
The controversial accord has been stalled in the legislature since it was signed in June last year after a process that was not made open to public scrutiny. If the students had not occupied the legislature in anger at Chang’s actions and the opaque handling of the agreement, the pact — given the KMT’s majority — may very well have been passed by the legislature, without any inspection of its contents.
If the pact is as good for the nation as the government claims, alleging it would bring more benefits than harm to local industries, an item-by-item committee review would provide a great opportunity for all to have a close look at its actual contents, delight in all the positives and therefore silence the naysayers. Moreover, given the KMT’s majority, it would have no problem passing an item-by-item review at the committee level, despite objections from the Democratic Progressive Party-led opposition.
So, the KMT’s persistent refusal to have the pact undergo an item-by-item committee review only works to foster public doubt and raises one fundamental question — What is the content of the pact that the Ma government does not want Taiwanese to know?
More importantly, if the cross-strait service trade agreement, signed without transparency, prior public consent or oversight, could be rushed through committee review without any scrutiny and then clear the legislative floor, it would set a terrible — if not frightening — precedent for any future cross-strait accords.
What if cross-strait agreements such as military confidence-building mechanisms and peace accords are also concluded without the consent of the Taiwanese people? This is a scary thought.