Ma wants to talk to Tsai about ECFA, but not in a debate

By Mo Yan-chih, Shelley Huang and Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Sat, Mar 14, 2009 - Page 1

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday invited Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) to discuss the content of an economic pact that the government plans to sign with Beijing, but said a debate would not be the best method of discussing the deal, the Presidential Office said yesterday.

The content of the proposed economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China has aroused public concern and the president extended the invitation to Tsai to discuss the issue as she is an expert in international trade law, the Presidential Office said.

“It would be great [for Ma and Tsai] to communicate face to face and exchange opinions. However, a debate would not be the best way of communicating about the deal, as controversy might arise over the rules of such a debate,” Presidential Office Spokesman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) said.

Ma extended the invitation to Tsai during an interview that appeared in yesterday’s edition of the Chinese-language United Daily News.

Ma said in the interview that he and Tsai had both studied international trade law, and that she had previously expressed support for more open and normalized cross-strait relations.

“If Chairperson Tsai thinks I am too rash and naive, let’s talk face to face ... [The ECFA is part of] a specialized field, and we both studied international trade law and the WTO. Let’s talk about the issues,” he said.

Saying he has kept his door open for Tsai to discuss major issues concerning Taiwan, Ma invited the DPP chairperson to come and “talk jargon” with him about an ECFA.

She could also tell him how the opposition parties felt about the proposed agreement, Ma said.

The president said negotiating with China was “necessary,” and reiterated that the signing of an ECFA would not harm the nation’s sovereignty.

Wang said Ma had been eager to engage Tsai in conversation, and although his invitations have been turned down several times, Tsai was welcome to discuss any subject with the president at any time.

“We can arrange the [ECFA] talks at any time. There is no need to rigidly adhere to formalities, such as staging a debate,” Wang said.

At a separate setting, DPP Spokesman Cheng Wen-tsang (鄭文燦) said Tsai would be glad to engage in a public debate with the president about the signing of an ECFA.

Tsai believes “the agreement is an important political and economic issue. It is not about international trade theory, but a real issue,” Cheng said.

The reason why Ma has been skittish on agreeing to a panel discussion of the proposed deal might be that he is afraid of accepting the challenge of discussing it with academics and experts, Cheng said.

Meanwhile, the DPP yesterday released the results of a survey that said 80 percent of people were opposed to signing an ECFA under a “one China” framework.

Half the repondents in the DPP survey, conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday, were unaware of the proposed agreement, DPP Public Opinion Survey Center director Chen Chun-lin (陳俊麟) said.

A majority of Taiwanese (78.2 percent) think the government should first seek a consensus in cross-party negotiations on an ECFA before engaging in talks with Chinese officials, the poll showed.

Just more than one-third of those surveyed said they believed Taiwan would be excluded from international trade if it did not improve economic cooperation with China, while almost twice as many people disagreed.

A majority was concerned that an influx of low-priced goods and agricultural products as a result of improving economic cooperation with China would pose a serious threat to Taiwan’s manufacturing industry and cause unemployment to soar, the survey showed.

Almost 90 percent of those surveyed said the agreement should first be subject to discussion and supervision by the legislature, while only 6.7 percent disagreed.

Almost two-thirds said the government should hold a referendum on signing such an agreement, while 32.3 percent disagreed.

“Whether respondents considered themselves part of the pan-green or pan-blue camps or had no political inclination did not affect their opinion that the agreement should not be signed under a ‘one China’ framework,” Chen said.

Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) said that while he hoped Ma and Tsai could discuss the ECFA issue, he did not think it was necessary for the Executive Yuan and Legislative Yuan to discuss whether the legislature had the right to review a draft before the government could be allowed to sign an agreement with China.

Liu made the remarks during a question-and-answer session with Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Yeh Yi-ching (葉宜津) in the legislature yesterday.

Yeh said Liu and his Cabinet should hold a debate with a legislative team led by Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), who has said the government should seek a consensus on the draft agreement in the legislature before signing any deal.

The government’s position was that the pact would go to the legislature for ratification once it has been signed, Liu said.

“There is nothing I have to debate with Speaker Wang. We are not divided on this,” Liu said.

However, Liu said the government would hold further discussions about the ECFA issue with the public, civic groups and the legislature.