China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) yesterday denied that its spokesman, Wang Yi (王毅), ever said that it would be to the advantage of both sides of the Strait if Taiwan could sign free trade agreements (FTA) with other countries.
A Central News Agency (CNA) report filed from Beijing said the TAO told the agency that what Wang had actually said was signing an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) would be good for Taiwan’s economy.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chung Shao-ho (鍾紹和), who is in Beijing, also told the CNA that the TAO telephoned him yesterday to express its concern and tell him that he had misquoted Wang.
Taiwan’s Chinese-language papers, the United Daily News and the China Times — yesterday quoted Chung as saying, after his delegation’s meeting with Wang, that the TAO spokesman said both sides would benefit if Taiwan signed FTAs with other countries.
Yesterday, however, CNA quoted Chung as saying that when members of his delegation expressed the hope that China would assist Taiwan in signing FTAs with other countries, Chung said Wang’s answer was that “it would benefit the two sides if they aggressively push the ECFA.”
Wang did not give a direct reply to the question on whether Beijing would help Taiwan sign FTAs, the CNA quoted Chung as saying yesterday.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), however, did not waste time in commenting on Wang’s alleged remark during an interview with the China Television Co yesterday morning.
Ma quoted the reports as saying that Wang declared it would benefit Beijing if Taiwan could sign FTAs with other countries.
Ma said the advantages of signing an ECFA outweighed the disadvantages.
He said the biggest benefit of the trade pact was the reduction of tariffs on goods exported to China. It would drive up exports, increase Taiwan’s competitiveness, ease unemployment and boost economic growth, he said.
The disadvantage was, however, that Chinese goods would be more competitive than local products if Chinese goods also enjoy lower tariffs. However, the government would earmark 10-year, NT$95 billion (US$3 billion) budget to help businesses hit hard by the ECFA, he said.
Ma said it might take three or five rounds of negotiations to ink an ECFA, but they would keep the legislature informed of the progress as long as information disclosure would not affect mutual trust.
The legislature must also approve the planned pact before it takes effect, he said.
Former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), however, said the ECFA would only pave the way for a “one China market.”
Chen was quoted by a report published on the Web site of the Neo Formosa Weekly yesterday as saying that the ECFA was not purely an economic issue but concerned politics and national security.
“When you get to the bottom of the matter, cross-strait trade issues are issues of national security,” Chen said. “If the Ma administration thought there were two countries on either side of the Taiwan Strait, it would have taken a more cautious approach.”