Neither the Government nor the Opposition Should Be Afraid To Debate ECFA
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 24, 2010
This time last year, President Ma specifically asked his administration to step up communications over the cross-Strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA). The government issued its first statement on the matter. A year has passed. Just exactly what is ECFA? Most people still don't know. They listen, but still don't understand. According to the Wang Wang Media Group's latest poll, among the 70% who know Taipei and Beijing are about to sign an economic cooperation framework agreement, only 33% feel they understand the substance of the agreement. Two months later, according to the Ma administration's timetable, a majority of the public still does not understand it. This has led to serious Blue vs. Green confrontations over whether to sign. Both the government and the opposition refuse to publicly debate the issue. Instead, they have treated it as a political or campaign tool. This has not helped the nation's economic development. Nor has it helped to establish a national consensus.
The two sides began permitting exchanges over 20 years ago. Private sector exchanges have been akin to the river flowing into the sea -- difficult to stop. Politics has progressed from hostility to reconciliation. Economics has progressed from isolation to interdependence. Unfortunately the 60 year long cross-Strait confrontation has created a unique historical situation. It has created a peculiar atmosphere on Taiwan, one in which reunification and independence are unable to coexist. The atmosphere has become increasingly strained with increasing political openness. If reunification vs. independence disputes were merely election rhetoric, the problem would not be so serious. But reunification vs. independence issues dictate cross-Strait policy. Both government and opposition political leaders must realize that their reunification vs. independence political positions have created an insoluble dilemma for Taiwan.
The latest Wang Wang China Times poll numbers underscore the above-mentioned difficulties. According to the Wang Wang China Times poll, and a poll conducted by Commonwealth magazine and Global Views magazine, as many as 73% of the public on Taiwan feel that if the Republic of China fails to sign trade agreements with nearby countries, the failure will seriously affect Taiwan's economic development. Nevertheless 36% of the public still does not support ECFA. However, in the overall interests of the the Republic of China, over half, or 51% of the public supports ECFA. More supporters live in the North than the South. More opponents live in the South than the North. This underscores the regional differences.
Does the public really not understand that ECFA is an economic agreement? Does the public really not appreciate the international pickle the Republic of China is in? If the two sides fail to sign this agreement, the Republic of China will find it impossible to sign economic and trade agreements with neighboring countries. Does the public really not understand that the ASEAN Free Trade Area has already been launched, and that if the Republic of China falls further behind, it will be irreversibly marginalized?
There is no denying that if the two sides sign ECFA, some industries will profit and others will suffer. The government and the public must make decisions that will maximize the benefits and minimize the deficits. Who will tell us what is to our benefit? Who will tell us what is to our deficit? Besides the pros and cons, what other programs and measures are involved? The government repeatedly issues statements. It frequently introduces new talking points. The opposition party was in power for eight years. Besides accusing others of "selling out Taiwan," it has never offered any concrete reasons for its opposition. The Ma administration has repeatedly declared that it will absolutely not allow workers and agricultural products to enter from the Chinese Mainland. And yet the DPP still cites this as a reason for its criticism and opposition. It is unwilling even to do a little homework. It is unwilling to ensure that industries on Taiwan receive more benefits from the "early harvest" list to be announced in April.
Now for the vulnerable industries. Let us cite just one example. The Chen regime accused Mainland China of "dumping" cloth towels on the market. At the time, current Chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council Lai Hsing-yuan was a legislator. She led the charge. She forced the Ministry of Economic Affairs to invoke WTO standards. She demanded arbitration. Meanwhile the towel industry on Taiwan was undergoing radical upgrading. It is now producing high-quality towels. The Mainland Affairs Council has protected industries on Taiwan far better than the DPP government. The accusation of "selling out Taiwan" simply will not stick to the Ma administration. If the DPP still wants to oppose ECFA, then why not have the courage to debate it? It is time to clear the air, once and for all. Stop using simplistic McCarthyite tactics to paint Taiwan's economy into a corner.
Premier Wu Den-yih has agreed to a debate between the government and the opposition DPP. According to polls, the DPP figure the public most hopes will participate in the debate is Party Chairman Tsai Ing-wen. Tsai Ing-wen was a national security aide under Lee Teng-hui. She served as Chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council and as Vice Premier in the Executive Yuan under the Chen regime. Her thinking was clear. Her tongue was sharp. She was also familiar with the ins and outs of cross-Strait policy. She is indeed a most suitable candidate for the debate. Unfortunately Tsai Ing-wen has been dodging the debate. Late last year President Ma Ying-jeou openly declared his willingness to debate with Tsai Ying-wen, even about ECFA. Chairman Tsai demurred, and asked how can we hold a debate on issues that have not been clarified? Today, faced with intense public demand for a debate, Tsai Ing-wen's staffers are saying that if Tsai agrees to a debate, her opponent must be Ma Ying-jeou. They said that Ko Chien-min, executive director of the DPP Policy Committee, was highly qualified and would debate Premier Wu. Ko Chien-min undoubtedly has plentiful experience with the DPP's party affairs. But the public also knows that Ko Chien-min lacks eloquence. The Democratic Progressive Party is not merely terrified of a debate. It is throwing obstacles in the way of a debate.
Cross-Strait policy is an important subject that the Republic of China government can not avoid. If it is not resolved today, it will continue to confront us tomorrow. The public wants a policy debate, not verbal abuse. That is a rather modest expectation. The leaders of the ruling Blue and opposition Green political parties must take this matter seriously. They must not treat it as merely another political campaign. It concerns Taiwan's economic prosperity, and even its future.