WIKILEAKS: AIT doubts ECFA impact: cable says

ARE YOU SURE?:Former AIT head Stephen Young told Ma that US intelligence indicated that inking the ECFA may not lead Beijing to end its opposition to other FTAs for Taiwan

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  Staff Reporter

Thu, Sep 08, 2011 - Page 3

Former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) director Stephen Young was skeptical of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) position that signing the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) would open the door for Taiwan to pursue free-trade agreements (FTA) with other partners, a US cable recently released by WikiLeaks showed.

In the lead-up to the signing of the ECFA, the Ma administration said the deal would pave the way for Taiwan to gradually become more involved in global economic integration and avoid being marginalized by China’s opposition.

As his administration prepared to negotiate the ECFA with China, Ma met with Young and predicted that after the agreement was signed, Beijing would only offer pro forma objections to Taipei signing FTAs with other countries, the cable dated June 26, 2009, showed.

Ma told Young that if China and Taiwan conclude the ECFA, it would be a signal that China would not object to Taiwan signing FTAs with other partners, the cable showed.

The cable showed that Young suggested otherwise based on the information the AIT had obtained.

Young told Ma that “in meetings with US officials, Chinese officials have hinted that this might not be the case,” the cable said.

Ma dismissed the concern, it added.

According to another cable issued by the US embassy in Beijing on Sept. 8, 2009, Taiwanese business and academic contacts said they believed Chinese leaders were eager to conclude the ECFA as a gesture of goodwill and were unlikely to press Taiwan for major concessions, choosing instead to focus on consensus to reap political benefits.

However, they emphasized that even with the ECFA in place, Beijing might not remove its opposition to Taipei entering into FTAs with its other trading partners, the cable said.

The cable showed that both Wang Jianmin (王建民), a senior fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Science’s Institute of Taiwan Studies, and Chen Guoyuan, the Taiwan-born head of the Beijing Association for Taiwan Enterprises, told US officials that Taipei’s leaders were wrong if they thought the ECFA would lead to the possibility of more FTAs.

Wang said the only way to get China to change its position would be to make FTAs a priority in talks between the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and its Chinese counterpart, the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS), using observer status at the World Health Assembly as a model, the cable said.

The cable said Wang suggested that the government follow a three-part strategy to increase the possibility of additional FTAs: to first consult with China through the SEF-ARATS channel; to refer to itself as “the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu (Chinese Taipei),” as per the WTO; and to ensure that an FTA does not lead to “Two Chinas” or “One China, One Taiwan.”

Another cable on April 23, 2009, issued by the US embassy in Beijing, detailed Daniel Rosen’s, a research fellow at US-baseed think tank Peterson Institute for International Economics who then met with top officials from both sides on the ECFA issue, knowledge of the deal.

“Rosen’s mainland interlocutors told him China and Taiwan have very different motivations for completing an economic agreement,” the cable reads.

“Beijing’s motive is subjective, they claimed, arising from a ‘love of country.’ They said Beijing wants Taiwan’s commitment to the principle of ‘normalization’ of the economic relationship, but will not demand any specific concessions from Taipei in the short-term. Taiwan, however, fears being marginalized in its economic relations with both the mainland and the region, they claimed,” the cable showed.

The cable said Rosen’s overall impression was that the Taipei authorities want to move quickly toward an ambitious deal and that China welcomed the opportunity to advance cross-strait economic integration.