From the day that the cross-strait service trade agreement was signed, it has been questioned constantly by the public. While the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is directing all its efforts toward calming things down, the faction within the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) that advocates economic integration with China is attempting to cooperate with China in promoting unification through economic means.
On Friday, a former DPP legislator published an article in the Chinese-language Apple Daily that seemed to criticize the government for being insensitive and inept, although he also found ingenious ways of praising the service trade agreement. He said the government “manages to turn a good thing into a bad” — in effect saying that the service trade agreement is a good thing — and “when the agreement was signed after two years of talks, the mainland had made more concessions [than Taiwan]. The government should be praised for this hard-earned achievement, and if someone calls it a mistake, that is the result of bad communication.” This is tantamount to telling the public that the agreement is good and should not be opposed.
Some may say this legislator’s point of view is not mainstream within the DPP, but history says otherwise. Since 1996, the mainstream view of China within the DPP has been to “bravely go west,” to “stabilize fundamentals and move west” and “active opening.” All of these policies were aimed at promoting economic integration with China in direct opposition to the pursuit of Taiwanese sovereignty and independence. Promoting both political independence and economic integration is like having two horses pull a cart in opposite directions; the cart will break and the horses will take off in different directions. This would spell the end for the localization movement of the past dozen years.
Will economic integration benefit Taiwan?
The past dozen years or so have made it clear that the more we open up to China, the worse Taiwan’s economy does. Eight years of active opening up has been good for China and bad for Taiwan. It helped defeat the DPP government. The Ma administration’s comprehensive deregulation has brought with it a “22 karat depressed economy” instead of a “golden decade.”
There is still a force in the DPP for the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) which managed to break intra-party resistance to the ECFA in 2010. The DPP’s intra-party truce over the ECFA from 2010 to last year allowed the government’s China policy to start anew as it planted in the public the view that the ECFA is good for Taiwan, thus paving the way for the DPP’s defeat last year.
Because the service trade agreement has a direct impact on key parts of Taiwan’s economy, it threatens the existence of small and medium-sized and individual companies in the service industry. This showed the public that a small economy like Taiwan’s cannot be integrated with a big economy like China’s. If the DPP can take this opportunity to expound on the harm that the ECFA, the service trade agreement and other such economic colonization policies will cause — such as only benefiting big business while China attracts all the investment and talent, and the eventual marginalization and colonization of Taiwan — the revealed relationship between the depressed economy and the economic integration policy will surely set off another wave of grassroots awareness that may effectively defuse the economic terror card that the KMT will play in time for the 2016 presidential and legislative elections.
The lessons learned from the truce over the ECFA are not very distant. Will the DPP really repeat the same mistake?
Huang Tien-lin is former president and chairman of First Commercial Bank.
Translated by Perry Svensson