Wed, Jul 23, 2014 - Page 8 News List

Campaigns start, rationality stops

By John Copper

As Taiwan prepares for the elections in November, many events and issues are being politicized and turned into campaign issues. As this happens, rationality often ceases to prevail; instead, untruths and hypocrisy rule.

There are some poignant examples of this:

First is that the cross-strait service trade agreement with China and the free economic pilot zones plan are being challenged as harmful to Taiwanese businesses and even Taiwan itself. Yet it is obvious — and some opponents of these policies admit this — they would hurt some businesses, but help others, as most such agreements do, and they would also facilitate trade, which is good for the nation.

Their most obvious defect, it is charged, but which makes little sense, is that they are not transparent, and therefore harmful to Taiwan’s democracy — even though both policies have been extensively dissected, vetted, debated and criticized. They are certainly more transparent than most economic or commercial agreements and proposals negotiated elsewhere.

However, what seems most irrational about the criticisms is that Taiwan is making serious efforts to join negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, but that little is being said about that trade pact not being transparent.

The TPP’s provisions are not even known to members of the US Congress. WikiLeaks’ disclosure of some of its articles and suspicions resulting from its secrecy have caused labor and environmental groups in the US stage street protests. There are also charges it is a corrupt agreement, as it will help the music and movie businesses (Hollywood), as well as drug companies in the US — both major contributors to US President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.

Moreover, the TPP is not a free-trade agreement, as it is touted. It is a managed trade agreement in large measure aimed at Beijing and that is part of Washington’s “pivot to Asia” policy launched by the Obama administration to check China’s rise.

The deal was supposed to be finalized in December last year, but due to a lack of consensus among participants, had to be delayed. Then it was to be concluded in April, when Obama visited Asia, but that did not happen. Japan expressed misgivings over the pact’s provisions on agriculture (which would possibly be a problem for Taiwan too). Meanwhile, Republicans in the US, who normally support free-trade agreements, were distrustful of the Obama administration and their support is questionable.

The second example is the recent visit China’s Taiwan Affairs Office Minister Zhang Zhijun (張志軍) made to Taiwan — technically, the first such official visit as previous ones were made by non-government personnel. His presence attracted distracters.

Zhang’s visit was not unannounced; Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) proposed the trip several months earlier. Zhang’s agenda was also transparent and his visit little more than a friendly tour. Zhang did almost nothing while in Taiwan and said little that was important or controversial, and certainly nothing offensive. He presented a friendly, cheerful and optimistic mien. However, critics gathered to protest his presence.

They suggested-cum-demanded that he agree with Greater Tainan Mayor William Lai’s (賴清德) statement in China just days earlier that the future of Taiwan should be decided by the 23 million residents of Taiwan (not including Chinese elsewhere, as an official in China had suggested before). Zhang did not comply and was harangued as a result.

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