In the extraordinary legislative session aimed at reviewing the cross-strait service trade agreement, legislators have said that they will go through the agreement clause-by-clause and vote on each clause, and that if any of the deregulated items would result in unfair competition between Taiwanese and Chinese industries, they will take a conservative approach and initiate renegotiations. While this may seem like a cautious and serious approach, it disguises the agreement as a purely economic issue, which risks ruining Taiwan’s sovereignty and freedom.
Is the service trade agreement an economic issue? Of course it is not. It is a political one, because its political goals extend way beyond its economic goals. Using economic means to spur unification has always been the most important guiding principle in China’s attempts at unifying Taiwan with China. The Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) is a product of this guiding principle, while the service trade agreement is the most important pillar within the ECFA framework and something that will be used to help China leverage investment, immigration and other incentives to control how Taiwanese vote and achieve its goal of unification.
From the government’s perspective, the agreement will help large conglomerates enter the Chinese market, and it will also bring Chinese capital and workers into Taiwan and help consolidate and further President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) goal of eventual unification, while helping pave the way for another Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) victory in the 2016 presidential election. In this way the government can kill two birds with one stone.
The KMT knows allowing the service industry to enter China will further hollow out Taiwan and that a depressed economy and public complaints are not beneficial to the party’s chances of being re-elected. However, the Ma administration still believes that the ability to make a living is more important than the strong public outpouring of discontent. It believes that when people lose their financial power, they will choose to remain silent instead of unite in action. This, coupled with China’s promise of economic prosperity, is what the KMT believes will ensure another election victory. This was the main reason Ma won by 800,000 votes in last year’s presidential election despite four years of poor political results.
Another political motive of the service trade agreement is to bring about a meeting between Ma and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平). Ma’s re-election as KMT party chairman was also in line with Beijing’s “one China” principle because it helps pave the way for the same meeting. The “one China” principle, a meeting between Ma and Xi, and the service trade agreement represent a new triangle for Ma’s current policy of eventual unification. The service trade agreement is necessary for the formation of this new triangle.
We should therefore understand that the service trade agreement is not only something characterized by “backroom deals” or a lack of “communication,” but that it is also an agreement with secret political motives. This is not something that can be solved by reviewing the agreement, voting on it and negotiating parts of it that would bring about unfair competition between Taiwan and China. We should remind our legislators and economic and political leaders who wish to keep Taiwan’s sovereignty, freedom and democracy intact that they must understand the true nature of the service trade agreement.
We should not oppose, and maybe even welcome the economic cooperation agreement that was recently signed with New Zealand because it is purely economic in nature. Opening up and competition is nothing to be afraid of, and the signing of free-trade agreements with other countries should be encouraged. However, we should not sign the service trade agreement with China, because it is politically motivated and will only do Taiwan harm and no good.
Huang Tien-lin is a former presidential adviser.
Translated by Drew Cameron