The Ma Administration Should Change Its Strategy for ECFA
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
February 11, 2010
On Februrary 9, President Ma personally took to the frontlines. He went on live television and explained the Cross-Strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) to the public. But after listening to President Ma's speech, pundits said that while they appreciated President Ma's sincerity, the commander in chief personally taking to the frontlines failed to win them over on ECFA.
President Ma's speaking style stresses detailed reasoning and logic. Such a style may convince a rational audience. But it will put emotionally-oriented members of the public to sleep. The problem is that everyone thinks the administration needs to convince emotionally-oriented members of the public. That is why the Ministry of Economic Affairs recently suggested "inviting Yen Ching-piao to present an argument." The Ma Administration should do a better job of communicating the meaning of ECFA to the public. But what strategy should it adopt? What PR theme will do the trick? This is something to which it needs to give serious thought. It must look before it leaps. Here are our views on the matter, and our recommendations.
Until recently, the tug of war between the ruling and opposition parties over ECFA involved the DPP going on the offensive, and the KMT adopting a defensive posture. Going on the offensive meant the DPP alleging that once ECFA was signed, certain industries would be affected and certain people would lose their jobs. It meant alleging that economic and trade exchanges between Taiwan and the Chinese Mainland involved hidden risks. it meant alleging that once ECFA was signed, the lives of farmers would become difficult. Adopting a defensive posture meant the KMT frantically arguing this won't happen and that won't happen. It mean frantically arguing that the unemployed would be given counseling, that job applicants would be given loans, and so on and so forth.
Simply put, the DPP is resorting to fear-mongering. It is alleging all manner of negative consequences once ECFA is signed. The KMT is saying "Don't be afraid." It is saying the administration will adopt preventive measures A, B, and C to forestall those negative consequences. But when the administration repeatedly stresses that it will adopt preventive measures A, B, and C, that amounts to an admission that the Democratic Progressive Party's fears are valid. In essence, the KMT is at a disadvantage. Besides, fear-mongering requires no evidence. As long as people experience fear, one has succeeded. But appeals such as "Don't be afraid" require proof. One must endlessly prove that preventive measures A, B, and C will be effective. ECFA hasn't even been signed. The impact on industry has yet to occur. Obviously it is impossible to prove that policies will prove effective in the future. The Ma Administration has been on the receiving end of punishment all the way because it adopted a defensive strategy, in which it bears the entire burden of proof.
We feel that instead of enumerating the benefits of signing ECFA, the administration should make clear the "dire consequences of not signing ECFA." The DPP was in power for eight years. East Asian economic integration increased step by step. Taiwan's trade advantage diminished bit by bit. ASEAN plus One or ASEAN plus Three are gradually taking shape. Taiwan is already "waiting to die." Its GDP is shrinking. Research institutions have known the score for a long time. If the situation fails to improve, in ten years Taiwan will become another Cuba or North Korea. The Ma Administration must break the impasse. It must make clear the consequences of not signing ECFA to the public, through either numbers or words. It must expose the DPP's phobic, Closed Door Mentality. It must make clear that not signing ECFA amounts to perpetuating the Democratic Progressive Party's phobic, Closed Door Policy.
President Ma needs one more change to his strategy. Industrialists, manufacturers, and entrepreneurs who favor ECFA must come forward. They must speak out on behalf of the policy. As everyone knows, signing ECFA will negatively impact a small number of industries. But it will benefit the vast majority of industries. That being the case, why don't the beneficiaries of the policy speak out in its favor? When those impacted by the policy raise a hue and cry, why don't these businesses respond? Take the financial industry for example. The news is filled with reports of financial heads engaging in breach of trust or money laundering. Few of them fulfill their responsibility to society. ECFA may broaden the scope of their operations and increase their profits. They have a clear moral obligation to assist industries negatively impacted by the policy. They have no excuse to sit on the sidelines. The Ma Administration should get the silent beneficiaries of the policy to work with the rest of the community. This will make its media battle much easier.
Beneficiaries of ECFA must speak out in unision. On the one hand they must do so because they are the beneficiaries. They understand the issue the best. On the other hand they must let the DPP understand that it is making an enemy of Taiwan's economy as a whole, and not just the ruling KMT. ECFA was originally perceived as merely the pet project of President Ma and his financial and economic cabinet officials. But many industries have since spoken up. ECFA is now a public welfare issue. Initially the DPP could criticize the President and denounce his ministers with impunity. But in fact its opponent is society as a whole. Therefore the ruling KMT should line up the hundreds of industries benefitting from ECFA in front of the Democratic Progressive Party, and see if the DPP has the guts to vent its spleen at the snation's industries.
The aforementioned proposition is very simple. It can be summed up in two sentences. "Strategically, the administration must go on the offensive. Propaganda-wise, industry must speak out." Instead of micromanaging his subordinates' tactics, Ma Ying-jeou should change his strategy.