INTERVIEW: Need to 'demystify' ECFA: Danish analyst

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

Tue, Apr 06, 2010 - Page 3

As Taipei and Beijing are negotiating an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA), the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) needs to reach out to the opposition and the public before the trade deal is signed, said Michale Danielsen, chairman of the Copenhagen-based Taiwan Corner.

Danielsen urged the KMT government to let Taiwanese hold a referendum on an ECFA because it was “a fundamental issue and you need to demystify it.”

“Through a referendum, politicians will debate it and the people will be able to see what the agreement is about,” the Danish political observer said in an interview with the Taipei Times in Taipei last month. “Maybe in the end they will say, oh, this is not so bad.”

If the people rejected the proposed pact then the government would need to go back to the drawing board and negotiate a better deal, which in the long run would benefit the country, he said.

He added that communication between different individuals and political parties was important.

“Democracy starts with conversations,” he said. “Conversations are not that you try to persuade others, but a dialogue in which you try to understand what other people are thinking about an issue. This kind of deeper discussion is lacking among the ordinary citizen and political parties here.”

Danielsen said his impression of the KMT was that it preferred to keep things in line rather than engage with different political parties.

While it was widely known that China was the main obstacle to Taiwan's efforts to sign free-trade agreements (FTA) with other countries, Danielsen said it was discouraging to see that the KMT is reluctant to ask Beijing to back off.

“You can only hope that China would show the courtesy of allowing Taiwan to ink FTA with other countries,” he said.

Aside from encouraging the KMT government to specify in the ECFA that China stop its obstructionism, Danielsen urged other countries to tell Beijing to stop interfering in Taiwan's affairs.

“I think it's about time for the world leaders to say to China that you have to respect the international law and that you have to respect the agreement you have signed as a full member of the WTO,” he said.

Danielsen said he agreed that only a few countries in the world had the courage to stand up to China because they claimed they were being pragmatic. But to him, those countries were “irresponsibly pragmatic,” he said.

Compromise was not a bad thing, he said, but you can compromise only so many times before you lose your own beliefs and values.

“I think Taiwan gives hope to the world because Taiwan is a prime example of how economic power influence democratic values,” he said. “There are so many interesting things going on here and they have so much to offer to the world that it's time to release this prisoner [Taiwan] and let it play fully in the international arena.”

The KMT focused too much on China and it could hurt Taiwan's economy if it was not careful, Danielsen said.

“Taiwan's economy would be much better off if you cooperate with countries just as mature as Taiwan,” he said. “That includes the European Union, Japan and US. Those are the partners that Taiwan should seek.”

Taiwan and the EU would benefit from each other through closer cooperation, he said, because the EU could help upgrade Taiwan's service industry and Taiwan could help the EU with technology.

Danielsen said some might argue that the ECFA was too technical to understand, but the public did understand the big picture and knew what was best for Taiwan.

Commenting on the KMT's recent election defeats, Danielsen said it might be a good thing because it was healthier for Taiwan's democracy to have a stronger opposition party.

It was crucial to have a strong opposition in Taiwan to keep the ruling party in check, he said, adding that the same theory should apply to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) if it was in power.

By the same token, President Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) plunging popularity might not be a bad thing because Ma may be more humble before the people, he said. “More humble behavior would benefit leaders. They need to listen and admit that they are not perfect and make mistakes. That is what democracy is about. It's about making mistakes, listening to people, going into dialogue with people and not blaming other people but thinking about what I can do better.”

Although he said it was a good thing for the DPP to focus on national identity, the party must also court political moderates and develop a broader platform of issues in addition to sovereignty.

“Of course, I personally support the direction of Taiwan independence, but it should be the Taiwanese people who decide their own future,” he said. “You cannot decide that now ... It's time for considering what is best for Taiwan.”