Not long ago, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) held the Ninth Cross-Strait Economic, Trade and Culture Forum in Nanning, Guangxi Province. The two parties issued 19 recommendations, the most important being the recommendation that the two sides should work together to push for the implementation of the cross-strait service trade agreement.
Every year since 2005, KMT members have crossed the Taiwan Strait in order to build a consensus with the CCP. However, what consensus has the KMT built with Taiwan’s opposition parties and civic society after it regained power in 2008?
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who doubles as KMT chairman, has frequently denied the accusation that he is leaning toward China and selling out Taiwan.
He emphasized that his administration has based its cross-strait relations entirely on the Republic of China (ROC) Constitution and national interests in an interview with the Washington Post on Oct. 24 and again when receiving a delegation of Chinese-Americans from the Committee of 100 on Monday last week.
He also said that “the government has changed the situation in the Taiwan Strait.”
Why is he now offering such frequent explanations? Is he feeling the pressure from the nation’s allies and is this forcing him to offer a more “balanced” stance?
The problem is that regardless of whether Ma’s approach is based on the Constitution, he completely departs from the principle of democracy and transparency when making decisions by excluding the legislature and public. Despite strong opposition to the decisions once they have been made, he refuses to make adjustments and stubbornly insists on implementing them.
Article 2 of the Constitution states that “the sovereignty of the ROC shall reside in the whole body of citizens.”
However, Ma seems to believe that the sovereignty of the ROC resides in him alone. In particular, his claim that “the government has changed the situation in the Taiwan Strait” is frightening. Is a change to the “status quo” not a serious problem?
The international situation is always a result of the terror balance between all sides. If any party attempts to change the “status quo,” should all parties not reassess their forces to stabilize the situation and seek a new balance? How could Ma and the KMT change the situation unilaterally?
The 19 recommendations issued at the KMT-CCP forum on Ma’s authorization are all-encompassing, but the key is that the two parties should work together against external forces. For example, the third recommendation states that the two sides “should work together in order to meet the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities in the face of the precarious international environment.”
This is the kind of recommendation that many people are skeptical of.
Last month, Shannon Mann, a research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute, published an article entitled Taiwan is Moving Closer to China, So Why Isn’t the US Freaking Out? on PolicyMic online.
“Perhaps no other ally is left more vulnerable from the US withdrawal than Taiwan. In the last five years, Beijing has used its influence to dissuade other countries from signing trade agreements with Taiwan... Coupled with the US inability to fully rebalance to Asia, Taiwanese President Ma was left no option but to sign a trade agreement with Beijing... At first glance, these gains are momentous, but, in reality, Taiwan will experience economic benefits simultaneously with loss of political self-determination,” Mann wrote.
Her commentary is mainly objective, but also partially incorrect due to the lack of close observation. It is mostly objective because Taiwan’s challenges lie in China, instead of the precarious international environment as the KMT claims. It is partially incorrect because any benefits for Taiwan are going into a few tycoons’ pockets. The public does not get to share these benefits, but they have to share the consequences of the loss of political self-determination.
After the forum reached a consensus on recommending a push for the implementation of the service trade agreement, cross-strait trade in goods and the establishment of a dispute settlement mechanism, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office immediately mobilized groups of Taiwanese businesspeople in China to run ads in Taiwanese newspapers and magazines to show their support for the agreement. This shows that Beijing is impatient over the delay of the legislature’s review of the pact.
In June 2008, the forum recommended a push for direct cross-strait flights. In December of that year, the Ma administration launched regular cross-strait direct charter flights. In July 2009, the forum recommended putting the signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) on the agenda. The following year the Straits Exchange Foundation and the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits signed the ECFA.
The decisionmaking mode of the CCP-dominated forum is an indication of China’s new order to Ma, who will now make every effort to pledge loyalty to Beijing with the help of the KMT’s legislative majority. Since the opposition camp and the public are treated as outsiders, how should we respond?
After debating the service trade agreement for more than five months, many grassroots organizations are calling for a restart to the negotiations, and the results of a government opinion poll echoed these calls.
Since the pact involves the opening of more than 1,000 sectors affecting 4.23 million Taiwanese, it should not be approved or implemented hastily in a nontransparent operation without thorough industrial assessments and communication with the parties involved.
Before a clause-by-clause legislative review of the pact, the ruling and opposition camps should formulate a set of regulations determining how the legislature should handle cross-strait agreements. Then, the legislature can go into a substantial review of the pact according to this, now legalized, procedure, to strengthen its monitoring of the government.
In a democracy, if the government signs an agreement with another country without the approval of the legislative and without having built a public consensus, that agreement will lack the legitimacy of having been reviewed. Before sending the agreement to the legislature for approval, the Ma administration should build a domestic consensus.
Translated by Eddy Chang