Taiwan and China are scheduled to sign an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) during the fifth round of cross-strait talks today and tomorrow in Chongqing. In spite of the rosy pronouncements by Taipei and Beijing, this agreement is not about free trade, it is about political control.
The democratic opposition in Taiwan and the Taiwanese-American community in the US object to this agreement on several levels
First, the substance of the agreement. Instead of opening up Taiwan’s economy to the world, it links Taiwan to a very volatile and unpredictable Chinese economy, which is full of bubbles about to burst. Taiwan has numerous viable industries, but many people fear that, upon the signing of an ECFA, jobs will move to China — 1.6 million according to one account — and that cheap Chinese products will flood the market.
Second, the agreement is modeled after China and Hong Kong’s Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA), in which Hong Kong is clearly a territory of China. During the past year, the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has repeatedly referred to Taiwan as a “region” of China, while Beijing of course sees an ECFA as a step in its longer-term strategy to annex Taiwan.
An ECFA therefore clearly undermines Taiwan’s sovereignty and the ability of Taiwanese to determine their own future. To those of us who have worked hard for Taiwan’s democracy for many decades, this is unacceptable. If there is to be a trade agreement, it should be under the auspices and regulations of the WTO, of which both Taiwan and China are members.
Third, the process of approval: While the agreement will apparently be submitted to the Legislative Yuan, the Ma administration’s instinct is to bypass the legislature — as it effectively did with 12 previous accords. It remains to be seen whether the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-dominated legislature will be a rubber stamp or whether it can really exercise its legislative oversight responsibility.
Another step undermining democracy in Taiwan was the rejection by the Ma administration earlier this month of a proposal by opposition parties to hold a referendum on the proposed ECFA during the November special municipality elections. The Taiwan Solidarity Union-proposed referendum would have asked: “Do you agree that the government should sign an ECFA with China?”
The answer to that question would give everyone concerned a clear and unambiguous answer where Taiwanese stand on this issue. Blocking it was an affront to democracy.
The net effect of an ECFA will be to push Taiwan closer to a still repressive China at the expense of freedom and democracy. Contrary to what some wishful thinkers in the US are saying, more economic interdependence between Taiwan and China will lead to less stability in the region, as it gives China more leverage to force its undemocratic ways on Taiwan.
The best way forward would be for the international community, including China, to accept Taiwan as a full and equal member in their midst. True long-term stability in the region can only be achieved if China gives up its unwarranted and anachronistic claims to Taiwan and honors the right of Taiwanese to decide their own future as a free and democratic nation.
Long-term stability in Taiwan itself can only be achieved if the KMT has the public’s well-being in mind and stops pining for the long-lost Republic of China. That “dream” is quickly becoming a nightmare that will inhibit Taiwan’s acceptance in the international community.
Bob Yang teaches at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and serves as president of the Washington-based Formosan Association for Public Affairs.
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