Monday, June 4, 2007

What's the Point of Talking to a Brick Wall?

What's the Point of Talking to a Brick Wall?
China Times editorial
translated by Bevin Chu
June 4, 2007

Every year, mid year, the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) and the European Chamber of Commerce (ECCT) issue their annual white papers, pointing out what Taiwan's economic policies ought to be and ought not to be. Every year our officials offer the identical pro forma response, saying they are already doing everything humanly possible. Perhaps because AmCham has given the same speech so many times before to no effect, and felt it was talking to a brick wall, the tone of this year's AmCham White Paper changed from one of being concerned to one of being fed up. Its language was blunter than ever, going so far as to openly predict that the economy is going to be in big trouble next year. Our own officials apparently decided to be equally blunt, and openly accused AmCham of "overstepping its bounds" and "interfering with Taiwan's internal affairs." Judging by the official response, the impact of this year's white paper will probably be another soon forgotten "one night stand."

In this year's white paper AmCham said that if Taiwan does not relax its cross-Straits constraints against trade, it would be in big trouble, by next year at the earliest. This is almost identical to American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Chairman Stephen Young's remark last month that the more Taiwan drags its feet in opening direct links with the Chinese mainland, the greater the risk from regional restructuring. This suggests that the US is extremely concerned about Taiwan's increasing marginalization. Leave aside AmCham's commercial interests for the moment. As far as the US is concerned, a politically isolated Taiwan remains a useful tool. But a Taiwan economically isolated by the international economic system is another matter altogether.

This is where it gets interesting. Americans are worried to death. Not only have US officials resorted to harsh language, so has AmCham in its carefully worded white paper. Yet the Taiwan side appears not the least bit worried, flaunting a "I am what I am. You want to make something of it?" attitude, or a huffy "Shouldn't you be minding your own business?" attitude. In other words, since our own people are not the least bit concerned, why should outsiders work up a sweat? Under the circumstances, what more can the soon to be published ECCT White Paper say? What more can these two foreign chambers of commerce say next year, other than "You may as well play with yourself. We're out of here!" Don't believe they would go so far? That's up to you. Actually, even if they were to say something along those lines, no one on Taiwan would bother offering an earnest response. The reason is simple. In Taiwan's current political climate, such issues are irrelevant.

On today's overly politicized Taiwan, appeals for "economic development" have become box office poison. If either Frank Hsieh or Ma Ying-jeou attempted to put the issue of their running mates behind them, and made an earnest attempt to address public policy, who would pay the slightest attention? Within the Blue Camp, Wang will not be Ma's running mate. We already know this. Whither Ma Ying-jeou? That is the question. Yet the media remains fixated on the Ma/Wang ticket, and refuses to stop beating this dead horse. It is only a matter of time before Frank Hsieh announces a Frank Hsieh/Yeh Chu-lan ticket. Yet the prospect of a Frank Hsieh/Su Tseng-chang ticket hangs around like a ghost, defying all attempts to exorcise it. If either Frank Hsieh or Ma Ying-jeou wanted to address industrial development, educational reform, or regional development, not only would the media refuse to provide air time or column space, even the political talk shows would ignore them. Add to this the exaggerated coverage given to deliberately floated political rumors, what good would it do for a candidate to express concern about "economic development?"

The ruling and opposition presidential candidates probably won't address the issues raised by the foreign chambers of commerce, nor offer any constructive solutions. The reason is not difficult to understand. Ma Ying-jeou is afraid of being cast as a "traitor to Taiwan" who advocates reunification. All he wants to do is talk about "nativization." Subjects such as opening direct flights and other cross-Straits issues will naturally be avoided whenever possible. Actually, Ma Ying-jeou can talk about "nativization" and "Taiwan" all he wants, but he will still be cast as a "traitor to Taiwan." What about Frank Hsieh? The reverberations from his "One China Constitution" position during the party primaries are still being felt. Deep Green fundamentalists are still glowering at him, watching his every move, listening to his every word. To expect him to shoot himself in the foot, or stir up a hornet's nest by broaching the subject a second time, is highly unlikely. When even a radical advocate of Taiwan independence such as Hsiao Bi-khim can be cast as "China Khim," who in the Pan Green camp is going to have the guts to champion a transcendent political vision?

But when international rating organizations announce that Taiwan's competitiveness continues to slide, to the extent that even the Chinese mainland has caught up with it, the official response is to blame the "Red Shirt Army." Is any discussion of the issue possible after this? To allege that the Red Shirt Army could set back Taiwan's industrial competitiveness, lower the efficiency of the ROC's bureaucracy, to put cross-Straits policy in limbo, is to flatter it. To blame the Red Shirt Army for last year's problems is one thing. But what about this year? The Red Shirt Army has not staged a single protest for nearly a year. So why are the numbers so depressing? Are we to blame the Blue Camp? Because it has checked and balanced executive branch excesses within the legislature? You guessed it! The ruling party's ability to find scapegoats is unparalleled. And the opposition party invariably plays right into its hands, allowing them to get away with it. Under the circumstances, what more can one say?

The East Asian region faces economic restructuring around 2008, 2010. We have warned about this for years. The ruling regime was not merely indifferent, it exhausted all means at its disposal to evade or obstruct this macro level trend. Anyone who took this subject seriously was branded a "reunificationist." Highly competitive Taiwan entrepreneurs repeatedly appealed to the ruling regime to take this matter seriously. The ruling regime either passed the buck to Beijing or simply refused to respond. In the end, businesses that could no longer hold out left one after the other. Foreign chambers of commerce still publish white papers every year. This means they still value this locale, and still hope to remain. If one day they can no longer be bothered to publish annual white papers, or debate what ought to be done, then it will already be too late.

Original Chinese below:

中國時報  2007.06.04

每 年年中,照例在台美僑商會與歐僑商會都會發表年度白皮書,對台灣的政經政策該做什麼、沒做什麼指指點點,我們的官員每年也幾乎都是公式化的反應,表示已經 如何努力云云。大概是同樣的話說太多次了,狗吠火車的感覺真的不是挺好,美僑商會今年白皮書的口氣明顯從往年的「苦口婆心」變成了「焦躁不耐」,話越說越 重,連「明年經濟會陷入大麻煩」的警告都點出來了,而咱們的官員乾脆也不低調了,直批其是「逾越身分」、「干預內政」,照這種反應看來,這篇年度白皮書的 效果大概也是「一日行情」,可以就此歸檔了。

美僑商會在年度白皮書中說,台灣若再 不放寬兩岸往來與貿易障礙,最快明年就會陷入大麻煩,這與美國在台協會台北辦事處處長楊甦棣(Stephen Young)在上個月指台灣越慢開放三通,「自外於區域整合趨勢的風險就越大」的警語,幾乎是如出一轍。這說明美國對台灣日趨邊緣化趨勢懷有極深的焦慮, 拋開美商本身的商業利益不論,對美國而言,一個被國際政治體系孤立的台灣尚可運作,但若台灣還逐漸被國際經濟體系所孤立,那情況就真的不妙了。

而 有趣的地方正是在這裡,美國人那廂急得要死,又是官員說重話,又是商會慎重其事的寫白皮書,但台灣這邊好像一點都不急,擺出一幅「我就這樣,你想怎樣」的 姿態,甚至都已經有「你會不會管太多」的不耐反應。換言之,自己人都不急,外人又在那窮焦慮個什麼勁?到這般田地,真不知道接下來的歐僑商會的白皮書還能 怎麼寫,甚至明年這兩個外僑商會還能說出什麼更重的話,怕是只剩下「你們就自己玩吧,我們先撤了」。信不信?就算他們真說了這些話,台灣內部恐怕也沒人認 真搭理。理由很簡單,因為台灣這幾年的氛圍,已經被引導到一個方向上:這些問題是無關緊要的。

這 幾年的台灣,在過度的選舉與政治動員下,「拚經濟」的訴求早已成為一種票房毐藥。設想這樣一個狀況:如果謝長廷或馬英九都刻意想擺脫「副手學」的紛擾,努 力想談談公共政策,請問有誰會搭理他們?藍營如今都確定王馬不配了,馬英九如今走到哪,媒體問的還是只有馬王配不配的話題,讓這個已經臭酸到極致的問題就 是收不了攤。同樣的謝長廷宣布謝葉配或許只是時間的問題,但謝蘇配的可能卻依舊如影隨形,甩都甩不掉。假如謝長廷或馬英九想花點時間談談他們對產業發展前 景、教育體制興革乃至區域規畫等等的看法時,不要說媒體新聞的時段或版面不會青睞,談話性節目也不會給予任何理會,加上那些「幕後放話」的傳言總是被誇大 處理,請問關心「拚經濟」有用嗎?

更耐人尋味的是,目前已確定提名的朝野兩位總統 候選人,大概都不會對外僑商會所關注的課題,提供任何有建設性的答案,理由不難理解,馬英九怕被扣上「出賣台灣」或統派的帽子,只會談越來越多的「本土論 述」,類似開放直航等的兩岸議題,當然是能免則免。更何況馬英九就算是天天「本土」、「台灣」不離口,還照樣會被扣帽子呢!謝長廷呢?初選時的「憲法一 中」餘悸尚存,深綠基本盤還在後面虎視眈眈,隨時隨地都在對他進行言論檢查,要他自己搬石砸腳,再去捅這個蜂窩,怕是難上加難。試想一個致力為台灣主權論 述辯護的蕭美琴,都會被打成是「中國琴」,綠營人士誰還敢能有什麼超越的視野?

而 當國際評等機構公布台灣的競爭力持續下挫,甚至被大陸迎頭趕上之際,我方高層官員第一時間的反應,竟是歸咎於紅衫軍,試問接下來這問題還談得下去嗎?紅衫 軍如果真有能耐讓台灣的產業競爭落後、官僚效率低落、兩岸政策停滯不前,還真是太抬舉他們了。去年找紅衫軍當替罪羊也就罷了,今年這大半年以來根本沒什麼 紅衫軍鬧事,怎麼相關的數據還是那麼難看呢?再歸咎給藍軍在立法院抵制嗎?答對了!當前的執政黨找替罪羊的功力永遠是一流,偏偏在野政黨也喜歡配合演出。 面對這種狀況,誰也無話可說。

面對二○○八、二○一○東亞區域經濟整合的時間表, 我們早幾年前就一再提醒過,奈何執政當局不僅不在乎,還竭盡所能的自外於、甚至自我封阻於這個大趨勢。誰要重視這個課題,誰就可能被扣上統派的大帽子。若 干有競爭力的企業主儘管一再呼籲當局重視,主事者不是推給對岸,就是根本不予搭理,結果撐不下去的企業也只有陸續選擇出走。外僑商會目前還願意每年寫白皮 書,意味他們還珍惜這裡、還想繼續待在這裡,如果有一天他們連年度報告書都懶得發表了,再要爭議什麼該做或不該做,怕是也來不及了吧!

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