Does the DPP Really Want to Debate, or is It Deliberately Sabotaging Debate?
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 25, 2010
The cross-Strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) will be signed in June. Yesterday President Ma Ying-jeou declared that he was willing to debate this important issue with DPP Chairman Tsai Ing-wen. Seldom does a ruling party make such an offer to the political opposition on its own initiative. The DPP no long has any excuse to evade debate. According to the latest opinion polls, 92% of the Green Camp's supporters favor a debate between the government and the opposition DPP. This number is even higher than the number for Blue Camp supporters. Tsai Ing-wen has responded to internal party pressure. Unfortunately, she has deliberately laid down all sorts of of preconditions. She appears intent on sabotaging any possible debate.
Tsai Ing-wen has trotted out any number of excuses for her reluctance to debate. One excuse is that before the nations of the world enter major trade negotiations, they invariably call for independent studies. Any such studies would be used during future oversight and review, and ensure that oversight and review of ECFA would be substantive and meaningful. But the ECFA about to be signed by the two sides is merely a framework. It does not merit the appellation, "trade negotiations." Some people still fear the impact ECFA may have on certain industries once it is signed. There is no reason why an in-depth report cannot be ordered. But the Chung Hua Institution for Economic Research and other think tanks already conducted in-depth investigations long ago. Think tanks close to the Democratic Progressive Party have also conducted independent studies. ECFA, after all, is not the 3/19 Shooting Incident. The Legislative Yuan is the highest representative body of the nation. Should it conduct such a study? Is it competent to conduct such a study? Many doubt it.
Tsai Ing-wen wants the Legislative Yuan to conduct a study of ECFA. DPP spokesman Tsai Chi-chang also proposed the establishment of an effective negotiating mechanism. Legislative Yuan Speaker Wang Jin-pyng agrees there should be a cross-Strait affairs oversight committee. Wang Jin-pyng favors systematic organization of the Legislative Yuan's tasks. He favors comprehensive monitoring of the government's cross-Strait policies, rather than the establishment of ad hoc oversight committees, saying the two can not be compared. What does the DPP want? An ECFA oversight committee? Or a cross-Strait affairs oversight committee? No matter what it wants, the Legislative Yuan has the authority to oversee all government policies, bills, and budgets, including ECFA. Debates between the government and the political opposition need not be linked to the Legislative Yuan's authority. If the two must be linked, then the debate between the ruling and opposition parties can be held in the Legislative Yuan, between party cadres. Why must the chairman be called into action?
Tsai Ing-wen also stressed the need to promote a second ECFA referendum. In fact the DPP began an ECFA referendum signature drive last year. But the referendum was rejected by the Referendum Committee. Who knew that although little has changed, the DPP and the Taiwan Solidarity Union's second signature drive would succeed? The Referendum Committee may reverse its previous ruling, and suddenly approve a referendum on ECFA. ECFA is merely an agreement about the framework of future talks. Only after it is signed, can the two sides begin negotiations and consultations within the framework. What is the point of holding a referendum on an agreement that merely contains a table of contents, but no actual content?
Tsai Ing-wen has criticized the Ma administration, saying not only does it seem determined to sign ECFA, it has established a timetable, and is moving along faster and faster, creating cause for concern. Actually, the cross-Strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement has been in the works for a year and a half. Everthing from its name to its signing date have been repeatedly postponed. The reason it must be signed this year has nothing to do with Ma administration's wishes. It has to do with the ASEAN Free Trade Area, which was launched earlier this year. From the perspective of national competitiveness, signing ECFA in June is already late.
The atmosphere on Taiwan is full of divisive rhetoric. People habitually turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to rhetoric different from their own. Over the past year, volumes of information on ECFA have been made available by the Council of Agriculture, the Council of Labor Affairs, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, and the Mainland Affairs Council. Each of these agencies has offered talking points. Leave aside the question of quality, and look only at the quantity. The volume has far exceeded the volume for other major economic policies. Most people cab remain indifferent to ECFA, which is merely an agreement over the framework of future negotiations. But the DPP must act responsibly. It is an opposition party that was in power for eight years. The DPP has no excuse for engaging in irrational obstructionism. The Democratic Progressive Party need not accept the government's official spin. But it must offer concrete justifications for its opposition.
Since the second change in ruling parties in 2008, leaders of the government and the political opposition have remained at loggerheads. Ma Ying-jeou has repeatedly expressed a willingness to debate Tsai Ing-wen, but has never received a response. Based on this alone, Tsai Ing-wen does not compare with former KMT Chairman Lien Chan, who handed over power in 2000. The Ma/Tsai debate remains a non-starter. Therefore it will not generate any political sparks. Tsai Ing-wen might as well come out of hiding. The Republic of China is a mature democracy. Party politics have persisted for twenty years. People may have their own political preferences. But they will not say no to their party chairmen meeting face to face. In fact, they welcome a debate between the two chairmen. Elections are about winning and losing. Post election debates on the other hand, are about healthy political exchanges. Blue reunificationist vs. Green independence rhetoric on Taiwan has corrupted political discourse far too long. Government and opposition leaders must lead by example. They must reestablish a normal and healthy political culture. A debate over ECFA would be a good first step.