Every once in a while, someone in Taiwan revives the idea of using the European Common Market as a model for possible relations between Taiwan and China. If it worked to reduce tension in Europe after World War II, the argument goes, why can't it work for Taiwan and China?
The idea was recently raised by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) vice-presidential candidate Vincent Siew (
Regrettably, the two gentlemen do not understand that the basic conditions in Europe are totally different from those in Taiwan and China.
The European Common Market indeed came about after World War II with the purpose of preventing a recurrence of the horrendous conflict that occurred there. However, it was an international agreement between sovereign states that recognized each other's territory, and did not dispute borders.
In the case of Taiwan and China, this precondition is totally lacking. The PRC does not recognize Taiwan's sovereignty, and even claims its territory as its own.
If a common market is to work, then the parties need to start out from a position of equality. Unless Ma and Siew have evidence to the contrary, this is certainly not the case.
A second reason why a common market between Taiwan and China would not work is the difference in size.
In terms of land area China is 270 times bigger than Taiwan, and has almost 60 times the population. This imbalance translates into a major tilt against Taiwan in terms of negotiating power, working very much to its disadvantage.
A reminder of the importance of the similarity in size is the constant struggle in the EU between the larger countries such as France, Germany and the UK and the smaller nations.
The EU is working in a relatively fair and balanced fashion precisely because there are checks and balances between the larger countries themselves, and between the larger countries as a group and the medium and smaller nations.
It is a democracy in which some are more equal than others, but the mechanisms put in place ensure that all voices are heard.
A Taiwan-China common market would be lacking any such balance between the partners and would by definition not work.
Another important aspect is the difference in economic development. Taiwan's per capita GDP for last year is approximately US$29,600, while China's was around US$7,800, -- a ratio of almost 3.8:1. In a common market the large economic and population differences would result in a steep reduction of Taiwan's per capita GDP -- not an attractive result for Taiwan.
Here's another example from Europe in this regard: During the German unification of the early 1990s, the size of the East German population, approximately 16 million, was only about one-third of that of West Germany. The effort was a major financial burden for West Germany, even though East Germany's per capita GDP amounted to 70 percent of West Germany's.
By comparison, China's per capita GDP is equal to just 26 percent of Taiwan's.
Thus, the European experience shows that a common market can only work if the partners start out from a position of equality as nation states, and if there is a reasonable balance between the participating states in terms of size, economic and political power and per capita income.
These conditions have not been fulfilled in the case of Taiwan and China.
Gerrit van der Wees is editor of Taiwan Communique, a publication based in Washington.
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