Beijing Must Not Oppose Taipei Signing FTAs with Other Countries
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
June 4, 2010
Beijing must not stand in the way of Taipei signing free trade agreements (FTAs) with other countries. Doing so would run counter to the goal of improved cross-Strait relations that the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) is attempting to establish. Doing so would seriously undermine the meaning and achievements of ECFA.
During a Beijing Ministry of Foreign Affairs press conference, a reporter from Taiwan asked how Beijing felt about Taipei's desire to sign FTAs with other nations with the help of ECFA. Spokesperson Jiang Yu replied, "[mainland] China has no objection to Taiwan having non-official economic and trade exchanges with other countries. But for agreements of an official nature, we are opposed."
Some have concluded this means Beijing is opposed to Taipei signing FTAs with other countries. Others have concluded that "opposition to Taiwan signing official agreements" is not the same as "opposition to Taiwan signing FTAs."
For verification, a reporter from this paper, the United Daily News, asked a follow-up question. The Beijing official said that once ECFA is signed, if Taipei wants to sign FTAs with other countries, Beijing will be delighted. It would not stand in Taipei's way, as long as they are "purely economic agreements" that do not involve sovereignty, and are beneficial to the development of Taiwan's economy. We believe that given Beijing's concerns about Taipei, this is a reasonable and predictable response. Unless one is obtuse beyond belief, no other response is possible.
Beijing cannot possibly oppose Taipei signing FTAs with other countries. That's because ECFA is not merely a "cross-Strait economic agreement." It is also an important framework for cross-Strait "peaceful development." Was ECFA negotiated with sincerity and goodwill? The public on Taiwan has a single criterion. Will Taipei be allowed to sign FTAs with other countries. As this newspaper asked, is ECFA an "Invitation to a Funeral," or an "Invitation to a Dance?" The answer will depend on whether Taipei is allowed to sign FTAs with other countries. This affects not merely the hearts and minds of the public on Taiwan. It is also the key to the cross-Strait struggle between the two largest political parties on Taiwan. Beijing cannot possibly be unaware of this.
Taiwan has a "shallow dish economy." If Taipei hopes to sign FTAs with any other countries, they will have to "cut Taipei some slack." Otherwise the FTAs will exert dangerous pressure on Taiwan society. But once Taipei signs ECFA, it must demonstrate its autonomy by signing FTAs. Otherwise given internal struggles between the two largest parties on Taiwan, the ruling administration's policies would not pass muster. Failure to sign FTAs would cast a pall of skepticism over cross-Strait "peaceful development." It would seriously undermine the significance and achievements of ECFA. This why Taipei must attempt to sign FTAs. This is the reason Beijing is not opposed to Taipei signing FTAs.
Therefore one possibile future development is that Taipei will sign a number of FTAs with its major trading partners, such as the United States, as well as with certain nations such as Singapore, which poses no agricultural threat. On the one hand, this will help make Taiwan's economy more liberal and open. On the other hand, and more importantly, it will help win the hearts and minds of the public vis a vis cross-Strait exchanges. If the ROC can maintain diplomatic ties with a certain number of allies, that will be beneficial to cross-Strait relations. The same is true for FTAs. Surely Beijing sees how FTAs will stabilize and improve cross-Strait relations. What reason does it have to oppose them?
Let us review the comments made by Beijing's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They opposed Taipei signing "agreements of an official nature" with other countries. In fact, this was their "three standard comments," namely that "The People's Republic of China is the sole legal government and represents all of China." Have cross-Strait relations evolved no further than this? What is ECFA? Is it an "economic and trade exchange of a non-official nature?" Or is it an "agreement of a non-official nature?" Did Beijing sign an ECFA with Fujian Province? Will Fujian Province sign FTAs with other countries? We do not think Beijing can break through such contradictions and psychological barriers in the short term. But if cross-Strait relations are to "develop peacefully," why invoke such terms as "sovereignty?" when they merely muddy the waters?
Cross-Strait relations have transitioned from hostility and conflict to "peaceful development." Governments on both sides must respond in a timely manner to this rare historical opportunity. They must lay down important cornerstones for cross-Strait relations. ECFA is one of the most important. But ECFA alone is not enough. Most importantly, the two sides must understand the hearts and minds of the public. One might say that the reason for ECFA is to win the hearts and minds of the people. But if one loses the hearts and minds of the people, what good is ECFA?
The hearts and minds of the public on Taiwan have two main pillars -- self-esteem and trust. If we have ECFA but no FTAs, where is that self-esteem? Where is that trust? How can the meaning and achievements of ECFA remain intact?
2010.06.04 03:05 am