China’s top negotiator to Taiwan may call Taiwan an equal partner, but after his five-day visit it is clearer than ever its fate is being dictated by its giant neighbor, analysts said yesterday.
This is putting President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) Beijing-friendly government in an extremely difficult position because only a minority of Taiwanese are comfortable with the idea of unification in the foreseeable term.
“China’s rise is faster than expected, and the changes in international situation are speeding up,” said Liu Bih-rong (劉必榮), an expert on Taiwan-China ties and a political science professor at Soochow University. “Taiwan simply can’t keep asking more without making any compromises.”
Ma took office in May last year promising improved relations with China and a better local economy, and Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin’s (陳雲林) visit, which ended yesterday, is the latest sign of rapprochement.
“These talks will help increase mutual trust between the two sides and boost the people’s support,” Straits Exchange Foundation Deputy Chairman Maa Shaw-chang (馬紹章) said. “Therefore, it has helped pave the way for the next round of negotiations in the mainland.”
The negotiations are crucial not just to Beijing and Taipei, but to the region as a whole, since the situation around the Taiwan Strait is one of the last remnants of the Cold War in Asia.
Chen on Monday hailed a series of agreements the two sides have reached in talks “on an equal footing” during Ma’s 19 months in charge.
Three more deals were signed on Tuesday— on food quarantine, industrial standards and fishing crews — but they will be dwarfed by a sweeping trade pact Ma hopes to sign with China next year, arguing it will boost employment.
However, it is likely that China will want its share of benefits from the proposed deal, known as the economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA).
“Taiwan is anxious to sign the ECFA, and Taiwan wants to profit from the ECFA, but so does China,” Liu said.
China holds all the cards, given its enormous superiority, with an economy 11 times larger than Taiwan’s, and 58 times as many people.
Basic comparisons of the respective strengths of China and Taiwan — and a simple look at the map — reveal just how weak and exposed Taiwan is.
What is more, China is not content with just economic cooperation, as it repeats as often as it can its ambition of eventually taking over Taiwan politically, militarily and culturally.
“China’s eventual goal is to unify with Taiwan, and China wants to facilitate unification through promoting economic integration with Taiwan,” said Tung Chen-yuan (童振源), a political scientist at National Chengchi University. “But polls show that more Taiwanese lean toward independence than unification despite the economic reliance on China.”
This has heightened public suspicions about the ECFA and could pose a challenge for Ma in securing backing for the deal, analysts said.
It does not help that the public feels left in the dark about the trade pact in the absence of clear details from the government, said Shaw Chong-hai (邵宗海), a political science professor at Chinese Culture University.
“The government has not done enough. That’s why the opposition has been able to stage strong protests against the talks,” he said.