Improving cross-strait relations during his presidency is President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) frequent boast, except that he always tells half the truth.
A half-truth is often a whole lie. That is why the latest protest led by students to stop the cross-strait service trade agreement clearing the legislature has gathered pace, attracting people from all walks of life demanding to know truths that have been withheld.
The lack of impact assessments on local industries before the agreement was signed in June last year is hard to believe and the 64 service sectors the government said the trade pact covers turn out to be more than 1,000 sub-sectors if a breakdown is provided. Even more perplexing is why people have been kept in the dark as to how the trade pact would affect the country from a national security perspective. A report was recently conducted by the National Security Council (NSC), but was then marked as classified.
We are not talking about relations with a country on the other side of the globe, but a close neighbor, which the NSC has recognized as Taiwan’s archenemy. Its businesses enjoy linguistic and cultural proximity — the key to expanding overseas service markets, and hold scale advantages over local firms.
Those against the trade pact are sometimes labeled as fundamentally opposed to all things Chinese. However, it is often argued in academic studies that free-trade agreements (FTAs) are not signed purely for economic reasons. The FTAs the US signed with Israel and Jordan in 1985 and 2001 respectively are often-cited examples that political considerations are key reasons for establishing trade pacts. With that in mind, caution over a trade pact like the cross-strait service trade agreement is necessary.
Nevertheless, since the protests began on Tuesday night, government officials have treated the demonstrators with nothing but frivolity and contempt, offering derogatory comments and calling their motives into question — the same way they have responded to critics of the pact for months.
The most recent example was the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ response to the revelation that power and communication cables, natural gas pipelines, reservoirs and airport runways are among the sub-sectors in the category of civil engineering that would be open to China under the agreement.
Publisher Rex How (郝明義) ferreted out the information after he looked up the Central Product Classification (CPC), a classification of goods and services used by the UN, to find out what the items listed in the category of construction works for civil engineering (CPC code 513) are. The ministry’s first reaction to the question was to try to discredit How, saying that he had used the wrong version of the CPC. It was not until it was proven that How had the reference right that the ministry admitted that they are on the list of items open to Chinese investors, but it vowed to strictly regulate investors from China in areas sensitive to national interests. What do other code numbers in the agreement’s Schedule of Specific Commitments mean? The codes need to be decrypted.
The government claims that a survey shows 60 percent public support for the pact, but it reveals nothing else about the survey. What was the sample size? What were the questions? How were they phrased? If the result is genuine, why not publish the details of the survey?
Ma likes to brag that his cross-strait policies are endorsed by the US. At a recent hearing of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kin Moy said the US supports Taiwanese engagement with China “at a pace that is consistent with the aspirations of the people on Taiwan.” Is Ma again telling a half-truth?
The protests in the legislature have shown Ma that the public are not comfortable with the way he has tried to ram the trade pact through the legislature.