Finally, the ministry said in its explanation to the legislature that the agreement will allow Taiwanese businesspeople to increase their shareholding ratios — including becoming sole investors — in Chinese service businesses and expand their scope of operations. The ministry has also said that China’s deregulation will increase Taiwanese business owners’ control over their Chinese business, expand their field of operations and make things easier to forecast and more time-effective. However, this line of thought is questionable. Since the signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), large-scale manufacturers have moved their operations to China. If Taiwan were to sign a service trade agreement with China, big players in the service sector might do the same. This could result in a hollowing-out of Taiwanese industry. Who would fill this vacuum — Chinese investors? This is a worrying prospect.
Amazingly, the ministry is making this its policy goal, without seriously considering what advantages the agreement holds for Taiwan or convincing the public that it is advantageous to Taiwan. Ministry officials keep on saying that the agreement will be beneficial to those involved in the service industry and facilitate their investment in China, as well as allowing young people to work across the Taiwan Strait. However, by making such comments, the ministry is not only shirking its official responsibilities, it is also undermining the self-confidence of Taiwanese. This is yet another thing that worries the young generation.
The government has repeatedly said that the service trade agreement will give Taiwan preferential market access to China and that it will encourage other countries to sign trade pacts with Taiwan. What this means is, ultimately Taiwan will have to obtain Beijing’s approval before signing similar agreements with other countries. This is happening already and the government is tacitly accepting it. Signing a service trade agreement with Beijing will be tantamount to putting a rope around our own necks.
During the Black May protests in Thailand in 1992, in which supporters and opponents of a new constitution clashed violently on the streets of Bangkok, King Bhumibol met with the leaders of both sides and demanded that they end their conflict. He said that there is not a single law in the world that cannot be changed, and yet they were fighting in the streets, making Thailand an international laughingstock.
The government must handle the demonstrations wisely if things are to end well.
Chen Hurng-yu is a professor in the Graduate Institute of Asian Studies at Tamkang University.
Translated by Drew Cameron