Liberate Cross-Strait Economic and Trade Debate from Word Games
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 3, 2008
The Blue camp and the Green camp hold sharply differing views on cross-strait policy. But so far during the presidential election, the two sides have not clashed head-on. At least not until the eve of the first political debate, when sparks began to fly. Unfortunately during this confrontation, as during the earlier debate on economic policy, each side merely stated its own views. We have yet to see the two camps express different positions during a substantive debate. The issues remain lost in a linguistic fog.
At the very beginning of the debate, Frank Hsieh equated the Ma camp's "Cross-Strait Common Market" with a "One China Market." This is typical "Chenspeak." The first person to speak of a "Cross-Strait Common Market" was none other than Chen Shui-bian himself. Such word games can easily lead to a loss of focus during a debate. The two sides lingered far too long on whether the Ma and Siew ticket ever used the expression, "One China Market." Little was said about the validity of their position. Frank Hsieh's substitution of "One China" for "Cross-Strait" turned the position into a straw man he could pummel at will. Such sophistry may be a shrewd tactic during an ordinary debate. But watching Hsieh squander valuable time on a non-issue during a presidential debate was deeply discouraging.
Ma Ying-jeou is attempting to inspire hope among voters by promoting a cross-strait "common market." Hsieh, on the other hand, is determined to characterize Ma's proposal as a "One China Market," to cast aspersions on it, arousing voters' fears for the future. Both arguments can be elaborated. For example, after cross-strait links are opened, Hsieh could champion sectors of society victimized by the resulting competition. But he is clearly not interested in that. Support for cross-strait links is what distinguishes Frank Hsieh from Chen Shui-bian. Chen Shui-bian deliberately relaxed his cross-strait policy to accommodate Hsieh's presidential bid. Yet Hsieh has now turned around and adopted "Chenspeak." He has blasted the Ma/Hsiao ticket's "One-China Market" policy as inconsistent. In fact, Hsieh is the one who is being inconsistent. Hsieh is the one who is flip-flopping.
Whether one refers to the cross-strait market a "Cross-Strait Common Market" or a "One China Market," the fact remains that it is a market and operates by the rules of the market. Last year's cross-strait trade growth was amazing, reaching 102.3 billion US dollars. Taiwan enjoyed a record trade surplus relative to the mainland that reached reached 46.26 billion US dollars. Cross-strait import and export trade heated up. Export dependence on the mainland exceeded 30% for the first time since 2007. The mainland is now Taiwan's largest trading partner, its largest export market, and its largest source of trade surplus.
In other words, even if one assumes that the Democratic Progressive Party has been practicing an "effective management" policy over the past eight years, it has nevertheless been unable to reduce cross-strait trade relative to total trade. If we were to eliminate cross-strait trade, Taiwan's export growth would turn negative. Cross-strait trade is ruled by market factors.
Given the high degree of interdependence between the two sides, the potential outbreak of hostilities is cause for concern. Hsieh compared Taiwan's economic and trade dependence upon the mainland with a diabetes patient's dependence upon insulin. His comparison was not entirely unjustified. But this interdependence is not something that worries only the Green Camp. The mainland authorities could conceivably impose sanctions upon Taiwan, waging a large-scale trade war. Both sides are WTO Member States. Both sides are subject to the interdependence that accompanies global trade. If the mainland authorities initiate a trade war with Taiwan, they themselves would be harmed. What's truly alarming is the Democratic Progressive Party's Closed Door Policy. This is what mired Taiwan in cross-strait economic interdependence in the first place, and deprived it of any latitude or initiative. This is what turned it into a diabetes patient who must receive insulin injections every day. If one refuses to regulate one's diet, if one refuses to exercise, how is one going to get well?
How many Taiwan businessmens' plans for regional operations centers and R&D centers have been cancelled because direct flights were prohibited? How many Taiwan businessmens' fervent hopes that the government would provide cross-strait investment assurances, only to have the government accuse them of being "Chi-Com Collaborators?" How many Taiwan businessmen, fearing government persecution, will not allow their capital to return to Taiwan? How many Taiwan businessmen fear that once the "ASEAN plus Three" free trade agreements are implemented, taxes on Taiwan's exports to the mainland will be higher than for other regions? How many tourism, shipping, and hotel industry magnates, seeing the rapid growth of Hong Kong and Macao, can only shake their heads and sigh?
What should the two presidential candidates be doing? Should they be debating the substance of cross-strait economic and trade policy? Or should they remain mired in pointless word games?