Mon, Jul 26, 2010 - Page 3 News List

ANALYSIS: Taiwan's negotiators not on the ball

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

The recent dispute between Taipei and Beijing over additional cross-strait flights highlights the administration’s need to improve its negotiating skills, analysts said.

Taiwan suspended five cross-strait flights operated by Chinese airlines in retaliation for decisions by Beijing that affect Taiwanese airlines. The dispute centers around the distribution of 50 flights added to the schedule after negotiations in May.

China said 20 of the 50 new flights had to be reserved for airports in Xiamen and Fuzhou — part of its plan to develop the Strait West Special District — while 14 were reserved for service between Taipei Songshan Airport and Shanghai Hongqiao Airport.

Taiwanese airlines were also under the impression that they could make changes to the arrangements for 135 flights agreed upon earlier, such as moving some scheduled for Fujian Province elsewhere. Beijing, however, said no changes could be made.

The Ministry of Transportation and Communications said although the two sides agreed in principle during the negotiations, they did not put it in writing. The ministry declined to admit any mistake.

A Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmaker alleged on Saturday that the foul-up resulted from the government giving in to China’s request that Taiwan’s lead negotiator be replaced with a less experienced one.

However, this was not the first time negotiators have botched ­important deals. From the US beef fiasco to the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, the government’s poor negotiating skills have irked many.

Political commentator Paul Lin (林保華), a researcher who specializes in Chinese Communist Party (CCP) history, said he did not have much confidence in the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) negotiating skills because the KMT has lost in every negotiation with the CCP.

“They cannot even guarantee the interests of Straits Exchange Foundation Chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) or former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰). How can we expect them to protect the interest of the Taiwanese?” Lin said.

The government’s negotiating team not only did not do their homework ahead of time, but also proved unable to react to changing circumstances, Lin said.

“A good negotiating team must be able to see through pitfalls when they come across one or they will fall right into it,” he said. “But what we see is usually not what we expect.”

Chinese leaders liked to say they wanted to “yield benefits” to Taiwan, but Lin questioned why Chinese airlines would give profitable routes to their Taiwanese counterparts if they don’t receive any benefits first.

The biggest beneficiary of the additional flights was the airlines, not the Taiwanese, he said.

Tung Li-wen (董立文), a professor at the Graduate School of Public Security at Central Police University, said botching up the additional fights was the quintessential example of unequal cross-strait negotiations.

The 14 flights reserved for the direct service between Songshan and Hongqiao airports were not part of the dispute because they concerned KMT Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin’s (郝龍斌) bid for re-­election, Tung said.

However, Yang Kai-huang (楊開煌), a public affairs professor at Ming Chuan University, said he did not think the problem was the negotiators were not skilled enough.

“Negotiations reflect the might of a country,” he said. “When a country is weak, it is hard to turn defeat into victory and the negotiation on US beef is a perfect example.”

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