On Wednesday, China once again put conditions on the government of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). This time it was Wang Yi (王毅), director of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, who set the conditions by saying that, as long as the two sides of the Taiwan Strait can work together to oppose Taiwanese independence and uphold the “1992 consensus,” that will be the political guarantee for cross-strait cooperation.
Put in plain language, this means that there is no such thing as a “purely economic issue” in negotiations between Taiwan and China, and the idea that “the economy is the economy and politics is politics” is a fantasy. Every economic question is overshadowed by the two pillars of China’s Taiwan policy — opposition to Taiwanese independence and the so-called “one China” principle. Wang’s statement echoed what Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) said at the National People’s Congress in March. How will Taiwan respond? Everyone is waiting to hear what Ma, who recently raised his fist while passionately insisting, “I am the president of the Republic of China,” will say.
In his speech in March, Wen already made it clear that signing an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with Taiwan was one of the policy tasks his government has set itself for this year. He also said, “As long as we stick to the position that the mainland and Taiwan both belong to one China, the great task of completely unifying the motherland is bound to succeed.”
Nobody in Ma’s administration dared utter a word in response. Soon after, Taiwan’s government meekly went ahead with the second round of ECFA negotiations, which were held in Taoyuan County’s Dasi Township (大溪). Now, while the dates for the third round of talks have yet to be finalized, Wang has thrown in another political requirement, which is that the Chinese Communist Party and Ma’s Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) must fight together against Taiwanese independence. The aim, of course, is to promote unification. The ECFA debate between Ma and DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) is over, and there will be no presidential campaign debate between the two parties until 2012.
It looks as though Ma, who promised that there would be “no independence, no reunification and no war” during his term as president, won’t be shouting any more slogans for the time being. Ma only needs the “Republic of China” cover when he’s on stage in front of the public, so he can put it away for now. That is the way Ma plays the sovereignty issue, as we have seen time and again during his first two years in office.
In such circumstances, when Ma says he intends to personally lead a free-trade agreement (FTA) team and that the more FTAs Taiwan signs, and the sooner it does so, the better, one can’t help feeling the whole situation is “creepy,” to borrow Ma’s own turn of phrase. We have to ask Ma whether he’s got China’s “blessing” for this latest project, given that it was only a few days ago that Wang publicly denied rumors that China would help Taiwan to sign FTAs with other countries.
China has repeatedly said that FTAs are agreements between sovereign nations, so Taiwan has no right to sign them. The ECFA, on the other hand, is another thing entirely, at least according to China. Judging by Ma’s meek obedience to China’s every command, his promise to push for FTAs is not very convincing.
Actually, Ma’s FTA proposal is not just a hot air balloon — it is filled with poison gas. He says that in the future, we will sign FTAs with other countries using the title “the separate customs territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu,” or “Chinese Taipei” for short, on the grounds that this follows the formula under which Taiwan joined the WTO. Maybe Ma thinks all he has to do is mention the WTO and everyone will be struck dumb.
The problem is that “the separate customs territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu” is not our country’s proper title. The notion that Taiwan is called “Chinese Taipei” for short is Ma’s own idea, and it makes Taiwan sound like part of China anyway.
Why did we have to suffer this humiliation when we joined the WTO? The “customs territory” formula was originally adopted under pressure from China in 1990 and 1992, back in the days of the WTO’s predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. The person who made this concession at the time was none other than Vice President Vincent Siew (蕭萬長), the chief economic planner for Ma’s government team.
Taiwan’s use of this title was not a free choice, even for participation in the multilateral WTO. If we go on using the same name in future FTAs, which are bilateral agreements, it would be tantamount to accepting and internalizing a downgraded status. That would be a big retreat. Do we really have to just grin and bear it?
Why does Ma have to keep whittling away Taiwan’s sovereignty? Recently, a few hired hacks have been keen to point out that Hong Kong signed an FTA with New Zealand last month, based on its status as a separate customs territory, without any kind of obstruction from China.
These commentators cite this agreement as an example to support their argument that Taiwan will have less trouble signing FTAs with other countries after it signs an ECFA with China. They choose to ignore the fact that Hong Kong’s title in its FTA with New Zealand prominently highlights its status as a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China, and that its status as part of China is echoed again and again in the articles of the agreement.
If this is the model the Ma government wants to follow, wouldn’t any such agreement be an out-and-out sellout? Who would want to sign an FTA on such terms?
Actually, it is hardly a new thing for Ma to take personal command of foreign trade negotiations. We only have to remember his government’s negotiations over importing US beef, which turned everyone’s stomachs. At the time, Ma arrived at a truly unique interpretation of the law, namely that a protocol signed between Taiwan and the US took precedence over Taiwan’s domestic laws. He tried to strip the legislature of its rightful constitutional role by failing to elicit parliamentary approval before signing the protocol and by not reporting to the legislature during the course of negotiations.
The protocol was not subject to parliamentary deliberations and lawmakers were not allowed to amend it afterward. Legislators across party lines agreed that the government acted arbitrarily and incompetently when it made go-it-alone concessions on US beef imports. If Ma is unwilling to reconsider this style of decisionmaking and improve his negotiating strategy, what kind of an FTA can he be expected to get?
The horrific landslide that recently claimed four lives on Freeway No. 3 is a reminder of the many vital issues that our country faces and how they have been put on the back burner. Our mountains and rivers are in a sorry state, factories are moving abroad, unemployment is climbing, industrial innovation is slack, the economy is weak and the investment environment needs stimulation.
Every one of these issues is more urgent than signing an ECFA, but over the past two years this administration has been stubbornly bent on dragging everyone into the whirlpool of its China-centric world view. The government’s one-sided policies have provoked much confrontation and internal friction. Now, all of a sudden, Ma is telling everyone that it wants to put some of our eggs in different baskets by signing FTAs.
It is a crying shame to see how little Ma and his government care about the well-being of the common people.
TRANSLATED BY JULIAN CLEGG
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