The cross-strait service trade agreement, which was signed in Shanghai on June 21, but has not yet been ratified by the legislature, would bring benefits to a minority of sectors in Taiwan, but may be disadvantageous for the majority, and its effects would be far-reaching.
The government only stresses the beneficial points and insists that the whole agreement should be approved unconditionally. This clearly underestimates ordinary people’s intelligence.
For example, the agreement has potential downsides for the advertising businesses.
On Aug. 20, the Guangzhou edition of the Chinese daily newspaper Nanfang Dushi Bao, also known in English as the Southern Metropolis News, carried an advertisement in the form of a letter just 53 Chinese characters long. The letter said: “Former Mrs Zhang: Give up, will you? The winner and loser have already been decided. A good man will only belong to a woman who can present herself well. May you wake up soon and learn how to present yourself, so that there will be no mistresses anymore.”
The undated message was signed “Mrs Zhang.”
That very day, the Guangdong Province Administration for Industry and Commerce set about filing a case over the advertisement on the grounds that it infringed Article 7, Paragraph 5 of the Advertising Law of the People’s Republic of China, which stipulates that an advertisement should not contain anything that would “violate good social conventions.”
The administration summoned representatives of the newspaper publisher, the advertiser and the advertising agency for a group interview. It ordered them to stop printing similar pieces and take active steps to undo any undesirable social effects.
The mistress-themed advert looked like a war of words between two women, seemingly unrelated to any product. However, it is said to have been placed by two Guangzhou-based companies — skincare firm Hanhoo and a brand planning agency. It was meant to be the first in a series to be printed over seven days, but the province administration ordered the campaign to be cut off straight away, citing the “mistress” theme as an example commercial manipulation to market a product.
Has commercial advertising ever not been manipulative? The shutdown order did not prevent a big response, so the campaign was a success regardless.
If a Chinese advertiser had published the same advertisement in a Taiwanese newspaper, there would have been no problems. No government department would have intervened.
Why would there be such different reactions between the two nations? The answer is simple: Because China has its Advertising Law, while Taiwan’s has not any equivalent. In Taiwan, the advertisement would be more likely to be praised and widely appreciated for its creativity.
Even if Taiwan had laws to penalize such an advertisement, it is a democratic country where the rule of law prevails, so punishing an advertiser would not be such a simple matter. However, in China, advertisements have to examined, and if people are checking, there are sure to be occasional problems — especially in a country where leaders’ and officials’ decisions are often more important than what the law does or does not say. If Chinese officials want to clamp down on ads that they do not like, they can do so, even if they cannot find a legal regulation to invoke.
Considering the harmful effect the cross-strait service trade agreement is set to have on Taiwan’s advertising business, how can the government ratify and implement it without explaining what effects it would have on other industries?
Yu Ying-fu is a lawyer.