The cross-strait service trade agreement and the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City, have a lot in common.
The government promotes the nuclear power plant by arguing that it is good for economic development and promotes the service trade agreement saying that it is closely related to the nation’s economic development.
In just the same way as those who are opposed to the nuclear power plant worry about the risks associated with atomic power, those who oppose the service trade agreement worry about the agreement’s impact on the nation, its industries and society.
The debate over the nuclear power plant has been going on for a long time, and the pros and cons of the trade agreement have been debated for almost a year, but many people still do not understand what is going on. The reason for this is that both issues involve a great deal of specialized knowledge and theory, making it difficult for the average person to understand. However, we can still look at where the trade agreement has gone wrong using common sense.
The government signed the service trade agreement with China while keeping its contents secret from legislators in the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the opposition parties, including the legislative speaker. This opaque process is no different from the way the government signed a contract and purchased a nuclear power plant from overseas without the legislature first passing the budget for it. Both of these actions are unreasonable.
Following a strong public backlash, the government agreed to first hold public hearings on the matter and then to review the agreement clause-by-clause. This was very similar to the way the government agreed to discuss the issue of nuclear safety more thoroughly and check every last corner of the nuclear power plant. However, now the government has said that the agreement can only be reviewed, but not changed, and that it must be passed in toto. This means that all the public hearings were a waste of time, just as those responsible for checking the nuclear power plant can only have a quick look from the outside. There is no way actions like this can convince the public.
The public has demanded that negotiations be resumed on the more questionable parts of the service trade agreement. In response, the government has said that according to international norms, it is unable to change any clause of the agreement. Would it be acceptable if the government — after buying a nuclear power plant before the budget for it has been passed — responded to public concern over safety issues by saying that no changes can be made to the plant because doing so would be against international norms?
Although the government continues to promote the nuclear power plant, public suspicion and pressure mean that the government dares not insert fuel rods at the plant right away. However, when it comes to the service trade agreement, the government has been unwilling to face up to public scrutiny and is only concerned with getting the accord passed by the legislature as quickly as possible.
Last week, I wrote an article about how President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is destroying Taiwan. Upon its release, the Ministry of Economic Affairs rebutted the article. The article stated that the nation is facing a crisis caused by the government ignoring national security, but the ministry was only willing to admit that the service trade agreement will see “bridge and tunnel management” opened up to Chinese investment and refused to admit that dozens of industries such as highway construction, pipelines for power and telecommunications, natural gas, reservoirs and tap water will be opened up. The ministry claimed that the article was not in line with the facts.
The government has admitted that it will be opening what it has referred to as “ bridge and tunnel management,” which is part of public transport support services under the UN’s Central Products Classification 7442. This will allow Chinese companies to set up operations here in Taiwan and provide management services for highways, bridges and tunnels. This is a covenant in the service trade agreement.
We will just have to wait and see whether this poses any potential threats to Taiwan’s national security.
Rex How is a publisher and a former national policy adviser to the president.
Translated by Drew Cameron