THE LIBERTY TIMES EDITORIAL: ECFA conspiracy must be stopped

Mon, Apr 12, 2010 - Page 8

The second round of negotiations on an economic cooperation and framework agreement (ECFA) between Taiwan and China last week has further clarified the situation: The ECFA is an open conspiracy between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to create a cross-strait economic market aimed at accelerating economic unification with Taiwan. In light of this conspiracy the time has come for Taiwanese to decide whether they want to accept China’s promised favors and superficial economic sweeteners and stand by whilst their country is annexed or stand up and oppose the plans of these two Chinese parties for the sake of long term national prosperity.

It is an open secret that China intends to use the ECFA to annex Taiwan. During the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the beginning of last month, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) announced that the ECFA is one of this year’s most important projects, and emphasized that it would make an important contribution to the “unification of the motherland.” Despite its initial suspicion of the ECFA, China is now taking a more aggressive approach and has offered to give up some of its purported benefits as bait and is now pressing for the agreement to be signed as soon as possible. The main reason for this shift in attitude is of course the low approval ratings of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and efforts on the part of the Chinese communists to help the KMT in the face of widespread doubts over the ECFA in Taiwan.

As expected, just ahead of the second round of talks, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office Director Wang Yi (王毅) offered five examples of the potential benefits China was willing to forgo. Three of those were not expanding agricultural exports, not initiating exports of labor services and protecting small and medium enterprises and disadvantaged industries. After Wang set the tone, the last day and a half of talks in Taoyuan County’s Dasi Township (大溪) went according to plan.

Ma is the main culprit behind the ECFA. He is a man who is firmly focused on eventual unification and is assisted in his pursuit of this goal by Vice President Vincent Siew (蕭萬長), who advocates a common cross-strait market. Both Ma and Siew are eager to tie Taiwan’s economy to that of China even if the cost is annexation. However, despite the support of huge consortiums and political and media forces promoting unification, this no holds barred, pro-China approach to governing is making it very difficult to sell the ECFA to the Taiwanese public. This is why, although the name has changed from CEPA to CECA and now ECFA, no one, neither officials nor the general public, seems to have any idea what it contains. At the same time, more and more people are demanding that the issue be decided by a referendum.

What is perhaps least acceptable is that despite having made almost no progress in promoting the ECFA, the government has become more arrogant rather than show humility and listen to public opinion. For example, those KMT politicians who double as members of the party’s central standing committee are using their position in the legislature to force the finance industry to promote an ECFA. They have even requested that the Ministry of Finance link the agreement to government allocation of tax revenue, with city and county governments opposed to a trade pact receiving nothing. It is also said that the academic community is too scared to raise objections to the ECFA. Besides pushing a bit too hard for this unworkable plan, the Ma administration also lies at every opportunity. It holds talks about the benefits of an ECFA on a daily basis, but keeps completely silent on its shortcomings or potential failings. The government has said that one premise for the ECFA is 60 percent public approval, but it is pushing for the agreement to be signed next month or in June, regardless of public opinion.

Parallel to its strong promotion of an ECFA, the government treats China as a normal friendly country, which is wishful thinking. The Ma administration claims that an ECFA tackles only economic issues and refuses to even mention the word “unification.” Instead, it notes that Taiwan’s representatives asked China to give up some of its benefits from the agreement and insists that an ECFA will help Taiwan promote greater economic cooperation with other countries in the Asia-Pacific region and Europe, as well as with the US and Japan. The government refuses to organize a referendum on an ECFA because no other countries organize referendums on free-trade agreements (FTA) and because there were no referendums on previous FTAs. That argument obviously ignores the fact that the public distrusts China, which still threatens to attack Taiwan militarily and subjects Taiwan to unrelenting pressure in the international arena.

Many people now hope that the debate between Ma and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) will be followed by a referendum, giving the public an opportunity to show that sovereignty rests with the people.

If Taiwan wants to sign a FTA with China, it should do so within the framework of the WTO, with China as one of many negotiation partners. This is how to develop a correct international strategy. However, the government not only wants to talk to China one-on-one, it is also desperate to sign this nonsensical agreement. Even worse, once Taiwan signs an ECFA, it will be completely controlled by China. The government accuses the previous DPP government of having caused the nation’s economy to become increasingly dependent on China; an ECFA with Beijing will only make this situation worse, but then again, that is probably exactly what the government wants.

China is now doing all it can to help the Ma administration sell an ECFA to the public because it is clearly encountering difficulties doing so on its own. The KMT and the CCP are conspiring together and China is offering economic benefits to get the willing Ma administration more firmly on the hook. Tang Wei (唐煒), CPPCC member and head of the Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao Affairs department under China’s commerce ministry and Hsu Chun-fang (徐純芳), deputy director of Taiwan’s Bureau of Foreign Trade, seem to get along very well, which highlights how the KMT and the CCP are working together to take Taiwan down a road from which there is no return. It is incumbent on the public to rise up with force and spirit and stop this conspiracy before it’s too late.