ECFA: A Variable in the Five Cities Election
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 9, 2010
The Spring Festival is over. Five cities on Taiwan are caught up in election fever. The cross-Strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) is about to be signed with a great deal of fanfare.
First Hu Jintao told Taiwan businessmen in Fujian that "We will give full consideration to our Taiwan compatriots, especially the interests of Taiwan farmers. This is a good thing that should be done well." Then Wen Jiabao spoke of "profit-sharing." He said ECFA would be signed this year. On the Taipei side, President Ma Ying-jeou publicly announced that he hoped ECFA could be signed in May or June of this year. The atmosphere was very different from what it was just before Chinese New Year.
Before the Spring Festival, President Ma said "There is no timetable for the signing of ECFA." SEF chairman Chiang Pin-kung said that ECFA consultation has entered "its most difficult stage." Rumors flew. Some said talks were stalled because Beijing wanted to ship agricultural products to Taiwan. Some said talks were stalled because of disagreements over WTO provisions. But now a timetable has emerged. ECFA will be signed in May or June of this year. Hu Jintao also gave assurances that the interests of Taiwan farmers would be protected. Wen Jiabao spoke of "profit sharing." This all suggests that the most difficult stage is already behind us.
The Five Cities Elections are a catalyst that has accelerated talks over ECFA. The Five Cities Elections will be held this year. The Presidential Election will be held next year. If a major cross-Straits issue such as ECFA remains unresolved during election season, the situation is likely to get out of control. President Ma hopes to sign ECFA in May or June. Clearly he wants to have it signed before the Five Cities Election Primaries. He wants to prevent ECFA from becoming an intractable election issue. Beijing naturally shares such concerns.
Such political calculations are understandable. But the impact of ECFA on the political situation is not limited to the Five Cities Elections. It will have a major impact on cross-Strait relations over the mid term and long term. Of course it will also have medium and long term impacts on the political situation on Taiwan. The point is not whether ECFA can be signed before the Five Cities Election. The point is whether the substance of the agreement is be acceptable to the public on Taiwan. Quite the contrary. If one hurriedly signs ECFA, but the substance of the agreement is unacceptable to the public on Taiwan, rushing to sign ECFA would be an unwise move that merely offends public sensitivities.
ECFA's linkage with the elections shows that democratic politics and public opinion on Taiwan have become constraints on cross-Strait relations. If one wants cross-Strait relations to "develop peacefully," Taipei must respond to public opinion. So must Beijing. Take ECFA. Hu Jintao's counterpart during consultations is not just the Ma administration, or even the DPP. It includes the public on Taiwan. They must be convinced of Beijing's sincerity and goodwill.
With ECFA, Hu Jintao established the principle of "good things should be done well." State Council Office for Taiwan Affairs Director Wang Yi reaffirmed this principle. He said "good things should be done well" means "doing the right things, and doing things right." This can be understood two ways. First, so-called "good things" means that ECFA should be considered a "good thing" because it is conducive to the peaceful development of cross-strait relations. But even more importantly it must be perceived as a "good thing" by the public on Taiwan. Secondly, so-called being "done well" should include communicating with the public before and during the signing. This will prevent a good thing from receiving bad reviews. For Beijing, this is something that must not be ignored.
For the Ma administration, this is an especially important test. After all, the Five Cities Elections and the Presidential Election have a bearing on the survival of the KMT regime. Hao Lung-ping has challenged Su Tseng-chang to a debate over ECFA. Clearly ECFA cannot help but become an election issue. For the KMT, failure to sign ECFA before the Five Cities Elections means that campaign debates will focus on whether or not to sign ECFA. But if ECFA is signed before the Five Cities Elections, campaign debates will be over "Was the substance of the agreement any good?" and "Did Beijing share enough of the profits?" In other words, the KMT will be forced to face the music either way.
The progress of ECFA has been accelerated by the Five Cities Elections. For the Ma administration, this represents both a crisis and an opportunity. If it can sell the public on the merits of the agreement, it will constitute an opportunity for the Ma adminstration. If, on the other hand, a powerful political controversy ensues, the Ma adminstration will find itself in an even worse crisis. Therefore, whether ECFA is a "good thing" and whether it can be "done well" is something the Ma administration cannot take lightly. After all, the Ma administration has a record of "doing good things badly."
ECFA affects Beijing. For the first time, the quality of Beijing's decision-making processes will directly impact elections on Taiwan. Whether this development is a "good thing" merits close observation by both sides.
2010.03.09 03:16 am
胡錦濤對ＥＣＦＡ樹立了「好事辦好」的原則，國台辦主任王毅亦再申此論。所謂「好事辦好」，就是Do the right thing，and do things right。這可作兩方面說：一、所謂「好事」，是指ＥＣＦＡ應當被認為是對兩岸關係和平發展有利的「好事」，當然更重要的是要被台灣主流民意視為「好事」；二、所謂「辦好」，其中有一重要事項，應當是指簽署前、簽署中、簽署後的社會溝通必須「辦好」，以免落得「好事惡評」。這對於北京當局來說，皆是一個不可小覷的考驗。