ECFA and Taiwan’s footnote in history

By Liu Shih-chung 劉世忠  / 

Mon, Mar 15, 2010 - Page 8

Last year, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) promised to explain the economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) to the public. Unfortunately, he has failed to change his top-down approach to policy explanation, and even used public funds in combination with lottery prizes to promote the policy in pan-blue strongholds.

Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) and Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Chairwoman Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛) have guaranteed that an ECFA will not contain any political references, most notably to unification, and the leadership in Beijing has launched its own charm offensive by offering benefits to Taiwanese farmers. It goes without saying that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will not be so naive as to make any political references in an ECFA. The thing that is most likely to hurt Taiwan is how Beijing uses the agreement in its international manipulations once it has been signed.

For example, look at how China used the joint statement signed by US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) during Obama’s visit last year. The statements about respecting the integrity of Chinese sovereignty and territory have been used by Beijing to score political points over the past few months as Obama announced US arms sales to Taiwan and met with the Dalai Lama. Although the US has repeatedly said that the statement in the joint declaration only applies to Tibet and Xinjiang, not Taiwan, Beijing frequently mentions the joint declaration together with the three Sino-US joint communiques, effectively treating it as a de facto fourth communique.

Beijing first said it would break off military exchanges with the US to protest the US sale of arms to Taiwan, but then agreed to a visit earlier this month by US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and Jeffrey Bader, senior director for Asian affairs at the US National Security Council. The US wanted to discuss Iran, North Korea and the second meeting of the US-China Strategic Economic Dialogue, but in the six meetings held, 90 percent of the time was spent discussing US arms sales to Taiwan. Chinese foreign affairs officials from Dai Bingguo (戴秉國), a state councilor with responsibility for foreign affairs, to Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (楊潔箎) accused the US of violating the joint statement by selling arms to Taiwan, while US officials kept their silence in order to win Beijing’s cooperation on other issues.

Beijing is well aware that Ma’s approval ratings are plummeting and that he must use an ECFA to divert attention from his policy failures. Indeed, they are using this to their advantage as with US eagerness to gain Chinese cooperation in the resolution of sticky foreign affairs issues. This is precisely why China is now giving Ma a helping hand by offering benefits to Taiwanese farmers.

Even if the ECFA does not include any politically sensitive wording, it will be easy for Beijing to use the agreement in its international propaganda regarding the “one China” principle and “unification.” Not only will the ECFA transform Taiwan into an economic appendix to China, it will also promote the international view that Taiwan is part of China. Even if the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) wins the 2012 presidential election, it will be no easy task to correct this view. The party could even be characterized as “troublemakers” for not implementing an agreement signed by the KMT and the CCP.

This is Beijing’s intention in signing an ECFA, and it is something Taiwan’s government and opposition parties must pay more attention to as they continue to clash over it.

Liu Shih-chung is a senior research fellow at the Taipei-based Taiwan Brain Trust.