The Ministry of Economic Affairs’ evaluation on whether to apply for membership of China’s proposed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) was dated — and released internally — on March 18, and it noted the lack of widespread public support for such a bid.
That was just two weeks before President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the National Security Council made the decision to submit a letter of intent on Monday, one day before the deadline set for applications to join the bank as a founding member.
Remarks made by some government officials, and the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) dismissal of attempts to compare it with the cross-strait service trade agreement — implicitly intimating, ironically, the latter’s secretive character and the government’s operation in dealing with China-related affairs, supported unquestioningly by the KMT — has exposed why it has been unable to secure public trust.
The economics ministry might say it has been wrongly blamed, as the Ministry of Finance is the authority responsible for weighing up a bid, and said it initiated an evaluation in November last year and finished integrating reports from other ministries early last month. However, although Vice Minister of Finance Wu Tang-chieh (吳當傑) denied the process was “black-boxed” as the reports “could” all be made public, discussion of it — government-led or not — was rarely seen until last week.
On the lack of discussion, it is easy to fault Taiwanese for being overly introspective when it comes to international affairs, but the government should know better after last year’s Sunflower movement, especially about the contentiousness of China-related issues, and be responsible enough to include the public in the “evaluation” it claimed it has undergone or be more actively transparent.
The economics ministry made another misstep by refusing, and later denying its initial reluctance, to pass copies of its evaluation to reporters, which several financial journalists claimed to have received only after voicing complaints to an opposition lawmaker during a legislative committee meeting yesterday.
Long before the Sunflower movement, which was the culmination of long-running dissatisfaction with the KMT government, transparency is what the public has been constantly demanding with regards to negotiations with Beijing. It seems only fair to expect the government to be more sensitive to public misgiving about China-led agreements and institutions.
It turns out that the government and the KMT are as self-absorbed and obtuse as ever.
Executive Yuan spokesperson Sun Lih-chyun (孫立群), on a live show on Wednesday night, said that the AIIB bid is different from the handling of the service trade pact, which was “forced down the throats of the Taiwanese only after the negotiation was completed and the agreement signed.”
KMT caucus whip Lai Shyh-bao (賴士葆) similarly claimed that the AIIB bid was “very different from the service trade pact, the content of which was entirely obscure and not disclosed to us.”
Their remarks, in response to public anger about the behind-the-door negotiations for the service trade pact, are worthy of applause, but ignored the real complaint — which has always been a call for the government’s acknowledgment that the economy is never the only thing that Taiwan needs to take into account when dealing with China.