The draft cross-strait agreement oversight bill has been waiting in the legislature for a while; it must be passed before any cross-strait agreements can be signed. With the Jan. 16 presidential and legislative elections approaching, it would be reasonable that negotiations for the cross-strait trade in goods agreement, which does not conform with the oversight bill, be stopped and left to the next administration to handle.
However, the Chinese government and President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration do not operate with reason. After Ma’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), the government has been aggressively addressing the trade in goods agreement. Between Saturday and Monday last week, the two sides conducted the 12th round of talks for the trade in goods agreement in Taipei and they agreed to finalize the agreement in a 13th round next month. The aggression of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) shows that they have certain objectives in mind and have devised a scheme to achieve them.
First, they want a signed agreement to create a new “status quo” before the next administration takes office.
Second, since the trade in goods agreement would lower taxes for the flat panel, petrochemical, automotive and machinery industries, these industries would use the pro-China media to promote the necessity of the agreement. By pushing down share prices, inciting shareholder protests and organizing seminars on the poor performance of the industries with the attendance of businesspeople, government officials and academics, they want to pressure the next government and legislature to circumvent the bill and pass the agreement.
If the trade in goods agreement could be passed this way, the service trade agreement and the special regulations for free economic pilot zones could be given similar treatment.
Third, for Beijing, it is easy to reduce taxes for these industries. In return, China wants Taiwan to deregulate the hundreds of agricultural and machinery products that were not opened up to China when it joined the WTO. Since Taiwan and China are on the same latitude and Taiwan is much smaller than China, this would have a tremendous impact on Taiwan’s economy and society, giving China an upper hand to enforce the policies it has devised to control farmers, middle and low-income families, small and medium-sized enterprises and young people in central and southern Taiwan.
The CCP is trying to find avenues to influence communities, cities and the entire nation, and plant vote riggers at the polls so that in 2020 it would be able to win back Taiwan with the KMT’s assistance. Would it be successful? Yes, very likely.
The only protests against the latest round of talks were organized by the Taiwan Solidarity Union Youth League, the Radical Flank and the Economic Democracy Union. Although they speak for farmers and workers — both disadvantaged groups — they were few in number, while the general public and other opposition parties showed almost no interest, leaving them to fight a lonely battle.
The lack of a powerful Taiwan-centered third party counterbalancing the two major parties in the legislature, coupled with Beijing’s threats and pressure from cross-strait consortiums mean that there is an increasing possibility for compromise and flexibility in the handling of the trade in goods and service trade agreements. If that happens, the 2001 Economic Development Advisory Conference farce is bound to be repeated next year. That would not do the nation any good.
Huang Tien-lin is former president and chairman of First Commercial Bank and a former Presidential Office adviser.
Translated by Ethan Zhan
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