The Sunflower movement helped block the passage of the non-transparent service trade agreement last year and the general view was that it was unlikely President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) could push through the agreement on the trade of goods with China.
However, things have changed in the past few days. The 11th round of bilateral talks between Taiwan and China on the trade of goods took place in Beijing this week, and on Tuesday, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson Ma Xiaoguang (馬曉光) said the two sides have agreed to speed up discussions and hope negotiations will be concluded by the end of the year.
This is the first time a concrete timetable has been given for the talks. Taiwanese officials have also said that talks will be concluded by that time.
There are three reasons for the change. The first is geopolitical concerns. Talks over the Trans-Pacific Partnership are to resume this month and it is likely that an agreement will be reached before the year is over, with Taiwan expected to join the second round of talks next year. Faced with a possible transition of power in Taiwan, China wants the Ma administration to pass the service trade and trade in goods agreements before he steps down so that Taipei is firmly locked into the cross-strait economic integration framework.
The second reason is the differing fortunes of the pan-blue and pan-green camps. Beijing originally hoped to use big business to pressure the next government into continuing talks over the trade in goods agreement and then tie the agreement to the so-called “1992 consensus” and the “one China” principle to force its acceptance.
However, recent political developments, including the dim outlook for Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱), is making it more difficult for Beijing to get what it wants. China would prefer that the trade in goods agreement was firmly in place, rather than pursuing political and economic issues.
The third reason is that both the government and the opposition have relaxed their stances on the view, which they had reached following the Sunflower movement, that an act supervising cross-strait agreements should be passed before the service trade agreement would be reviewed.
When the protesters vacated the main chamber of the Legislative Yuan on April 10 last year, they issued a statement demanding that “the Ma administration should not be allowed to negotiate or sign any agreements with China before passing the act [supervising cross-strait agreements].”
Even China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits Chairman Chen Deming (陳德銘) has said that the passage of the trade in goods agreement would depend on whether Taiwan passed a supervisory act.
However, the tolerant attitudes of Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) toward the signing of taxation and flight safety agreements has led Beijing to re-evaluate the situation. It now thinks that the trade in goods pact can be signed without causing a backlash in Taiwan, even without a supervisory act having been passed.
Democracy is once again under threat. Taiwanese have repeatedly said that there would be no trade talks without participatory democracy and there would be no regional trade agreement without measures to promote social unity that would have an impact on distributive justice.
The talks over the trade in goods agreement must be halted.
Lai Chung-chiang is convener of the Economic Democracy Union.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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