Nullifying cross-strait agreements?

By Lau Yi-te 劉一德  / 

Tue, Feb 13, 2018 - Page 8

Due to President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and her government’s policy of maintaining the “status quo” with China and its refusal to acknowledge the so-called “1992 consensus,” the past political foundation for the claim that both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to “one China” no longer exists.

In just over a year, discussion of a Chinese military invasion of Taiwan has been elevated to talk of a timetable for military unification. Beijing has also substantially stepped up its propaganda campaign and military scare tactics against Taiwan.

Taiwan has gone from being a frog in a slowly warming pot of water to an almost throughly cooked duck.

How should Taiwan deal with Beijing’s bullying tactic of death by asphyxiation? Should Taiwan strengthen its “auto-immune system” by building up its defenses, or should it place its trust in the US coming to its rescue? Or perhaps Taiwan should just raise the white flag and hope against hope to improve the cross-strait relationship? These are questions that can no longer be avoided.

Since the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th National Congress last year, China’s military commanders have used aircraft carrier exercises and warplanes to circle Taiwan, as well as unilaterally launched a new civil aviation route that is close to the median line of the Taiwan Strait. The disputed M503 aviation route not only shows a complete disregard for aviation safety and regional stability, it is a clear military provocation that no sovereign nation should ever countenance.

To assess whether Taiwan has the ability to defend itself and resist an invasion, it would be instructive to examine whether the government’s response is sufficiently robust and whether legislators, whose duty is to represent the democratic will of the public, support the Tsai administration.

Public debate and discussion over the disputed aviation route is not limited to Taiwan; media in other countries, including Japan, the US and Switzerland, have reported on the issue, while the European Parliament and the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association have criticized China.

However, the response from the Tsai administration has been mealymouthed and feeble: temporarily denying requests from two Chinese airlines for additional flights during the Lunar New Year period and calling on Chinese officials to immediately open technical discussions. The response seems excessively passive and deferential — to the extent that some have even questioned whether the government is not shooting itself in the foot.

Claiming that cross-strait peace was at a 60-year high, then-president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration in 2015 signed the Cross-strait Agreement on Civil Aviation Safety and Test Flight Cooperation (兩岸民航飛航安全與適航合作協議). At the time it was said that the agreement would, based on the principles of equitability and reciprocity, guarantee aviation safety and a supervisory mechanism for test flights.

However, Beijing’s only intent was to use the agreement as a tool in its “united front” strategy. Right from the get-go, China never respected the negotiation mechanism, so the pact simply imposed unilateral restrictions on Taiwan.

Not only does the aviation agreement threaten regional peace and stability, it casts aside any considerations of the rights and safety of passengers. The government must come up with more effective polices to deal with this issue.

Bilateral agreements need to be more than just pretty window dressing. The government should use this opportunity to take a look at all 26 cross-strait agreements and assess how effective they have been over the years.

Every time China has failed to honor the terms of an agreement or an agreement goes against Taiwan’s interests — as has been the case with the Cross-Strait Joint Crime-Fighting and Judicial Mutual Assistance Agreement (海峽兩岸共同打擊犯罪及司法互助協議), the investment protection agreement and the civil aviation safety pact — the government should repeal it. There is no need to continue putting up with snubs from Beijing.

Last month, the US Trade Representative’s office released an annual report that said China has not abided by WTO market rules since its accession in 2001 and has failed to carry out the promises it made on joining the organization. It said that China has no intention of becoming a market economy and that “WTO rules are not sufficient to constrain China’s market-distorting behavior.”

It added that it is now clear that the US made a mistake in allowing China to become a member. US President Donald Trump’s administration is preparing to impose harsh trade sanctions on China. The Tsai administration could learn from the Trump administration’s proactive actions how to interact with Beijing.

In January 2015, China tried to tamper with the M503 aviation route. At the time, the Taiwan Solidarity Union used its three legislative seats to put pressure on both the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party’s legislative caucuses to issue a joint statement of stern protest to Beijing in a show of support for the government.

In comparison with the latest kerfuffle over the M503 route, the legislature has said barely a word. The silence has been deafening and many Taiwanese have been disappointed with their elected representatives who are supposed to represent the public will.

At the very least, legislators should restart a review of a draft bill to provide supervisory regulations for agreements signed between Taiwan and China. Such a bill would give the legislature supervisory powers over any future proposed cross-strait agreements.

Taiwan needs to get its house in order and work harder to protect its national sovereignty and national security before it relies on any outside assistance.

From the government and the legislature down to individuals, Taiwanese must pull out all the stops to strengthen their defenses against foreign aggressors. If a conflict were to break out between Taiwan and China, only then would foreign allies have the time and space to intervene and allow the half-cooked duck time to escape from the cooking pot.

Lau Yi-te is chairman of the Taiwan Solidarity Union.

Translated by Edward Jones