THE LIBERTY TIMES EDITORIAL: Let the public scrutinize the ECFA

Sun, Oct 18, 2009 - Page 8

When Typhoon Morakot dealt a heavy blow to the government’s reputation, Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) managed to put a spin on it. He said that understanding the public’s suffering had led President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to humbly reflect on matters.

Now Ma is speeding up his stubborn push for an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China and ignoring all advice, so that even members of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) have begun to feel uneasy, asking in media interviews why the government has not explained the ECFA publicly.

Indeed, what is the goal of improving cross-strait ties and the ECFA? Apart from saying that an ECFA is “absolutely necessary,” the government hasn’t offered an explanation.

A look at China, however, reveals that it is busy drawing up strategic plans for foreign trade-related economic matters. Using the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangements (CEPA) it signed with Hong Kong and Macau as a template, China is preparing a blueprint for the ECFA. In other words, Hong Kong and Macau are about to be followed by Taiwan, whose political and economic integration with China now seems all but certain. The difference is that Taiwan is walking into it of its own volition.

What is the CEPA? After its return to China in 1997, the negative effects of contacts with the Chinese mainland put Hong Kong under pressure. Industries were being undermined, the foundation for science and technology weakened, and unemployment rose.

Before China delivered on its pledge to open up to the outside world, the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region hoped that after China’s entry into the WTO, it could sign a trade agreement with China to rescue its flagging economy.

Hong Kong was already part of China under the “one country, two systems” model, but China was not satisfied.

Prior to signing the CEPAs in 2003, it set elaborate goals for what it hoped to achieve by signing such an agreement.

First of all, it wanted to prevent the return of Hong Kong from going wrong and becoming an international embarrassment. China had to help Hong Kong’s economic development and maintain social stability there.

But nothing is free, and China felt that to further integrate Hong Kong and Macau with China, it was necessary to set up a system that would direct economic exchanges toward the realization of “one country” and to further integrate sovereignty.

In other words, China’s goals were to shift the “two systems” model more toward “one country,” with a goal of gaining complete sovereignty over Hong Kong and Macau.

But even that would not satisfy China. Its third goal was to use Hong Kong as bait. It wanted to bring Taiwan into the mix by making Hong Kong the starting point for a greater China economic region. From the perspective of China’s strategic interests, Taiwan is the missing piece.

Outside observers think this will satisfy China, but they are wrong. China has placed the integration of Hong Kong and Macau into a regional economy on the agenda. After signing the CEPAs, Hong Kong and Macau signed a Pan-Pearl River Delta Regional Cooperation Framework Agreement in 2004. China got all it could from the region, while the influence of Hong Kong and Macau was restricted to the Pearl River Delta. If they weren’t completely marginalized, they were at least being sidestepped.

If that’s how China treated Hong Kong and Macau, which were already in its pocket, one can only wonder what it would do to Taiwan, which it seems to covet more than anything else.

The ECFA is strikingly similar to the CEPAs when one considers how the CEPAs led from two systems toward one country.

China’s State Council in May passed a document containing suggestions for speeding up the development of Fujian Province as the area directly across from Taiwan. The measure is intended to complement the ECFA once it has been signed, with the goal of integrating Fujian and Taiwan.

It is easy to imagine the other goals of this document. China is keeping a high profile, telling Taiwan: “This is what we offer. It’s up to you to decide whether you want it.”

The government has already said it intends to begin negotiating an ECFA with China late this year. This raises questions about what an ECFA will entail, who will benefit from it and who will lose out, how the nation will benefit and what it will sacrifice, in what capacity Taiwan will sign the agreement and whether the public will be allowed to approve it.

None of this is clear. The effect is like handing over your chop, ID card, the contract for your house and a whole book of blank checks to a stranger. No one in their right mind would do such a thing.

Since this is precisely what Ma seems prepared to do, it is necessary to launch another petition calling for a referendum on the ECFA issue. At the same time, the year-end elections for county commissioners, mayors and city and county councils will be an opportunity to cast a vote of no confidence. The public must tell the government loud and clear that it cannot do as it wishes without their approval.