The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government’s proposed trade agreement with China could seriously undermine Taiwan’s economic competitiveness, speakers at a conference in Taipei said yesterday.
“Taiwan’s manufacturing industry is already a hollow shell. The [proposed] economic cooperation framework agreement [ECFA] will further increase China’s economic advantages relative to Taiwan,” said John Tkacik, a retired US diplomat and former Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “This problem is what former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) tried to avoid, but has now become a fact ... the independence of Taiwan’s economy is becoming marginalized.”
The government has insisted that the ECFA will pave the way for other free-trade agreements with Asian countries and enhance national economic competitiveness.
It has also expressed optimism that it can wrap up negotiations over the planned pact this year.
Labor and farming organizations, however, have criticized the proposed pact, fearing it could marginalize farmers and increase Taiwan’s economic reliance on China.
Professor Nakajima Mineo, who is also president of Japan’s Akita International University (AIU), told the conference yesterday that he did not foresee any benefits for Taiwan within the next few years if the ECFA is signed.
He also said President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) policies toward China, including an ECFA, could result in “negative consequences,” adding that Ma had skewed Taiwan’s relationship with the US and Japan.
This issue was also addressed by Tkacik, who said Taiwan’s trade relationship with the US had declined notably since Ma was inaugurated as president in 2008.
“Since Ma’s administration was elected, bilateral trade between Taiwan and the US has declined 15 to 20 percent,” he said.
The conference, hosted by the US-based World Taiwanese Congress and the Taiwan Nation Alliance, also included discussions on issues including Taiwanese independence and ways to gain both international and domestic support for such a move.
Speaking during the conference, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said Ma’s policies that emphasize Chinese over Taiwanese culture did not properly reflect popular opinion, given that more people in the nation identify themselves as Taiwanese rather than Chinese.
“From 1999 to October 2009, the percentage of people identifying themselves as Taiwanese increased from 43 percent to 76 percent. Meanwhile, the number seeing themselves as Chinese fell from 21 percent to 10 percent,” she said.
However, increased identification with Taiwan does not necessarily translate into increased acknowledgement of Taiwan’s sovereignty, she said. Tsai said this has become more of an issue under Ma’s government, which she accused of deliberately downplaying sovereignty whenever dealing with Chinese issues.
In reference to an ECFA, Tsai said that while Ma maintains he has safeguarded the nation’s sovereignty, many international observers interpret the agreement as a move toward unification with China.
“Although President Ma has told us that he is not selling our sovereignty, his methods have already led many to question whether the boundary between Taiwan and China is already becoming blurred,” Tsai said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY STAFF WRITER
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