Ma Su Debate: On Stage and Off Stage Wrangling
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China)
September 2, 2013
Summary: On the 15th of this month, President Ma Ying-jeou and DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang will hold a public debate on "TISA," or the "Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement." Compare the format to the format of the 2010 Two Yings ECFA Debate. TISA is a follow-up agreement to ECFA. It was signed in June of this year and now awaits approval by the legislature. Debating the issue now is unlikely to change the ruling and opposition parties' entrenched positions. But it is turning the debate into onstage and offstage wrangling.
Full text below:
On the 15th of this month, President Ma Ying-jeou and DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang will hold a public debate on "TISA," or the "Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement." Compare the format to the format of the 2010 Two Yings ECFA Debate. TISA is a follow-up agreement to ECFA. It was signed in June of this year and now awaits approval by the legislature. Debating the issue now is unlikely to change the ruling and opposition parties' entrenched positions. But it is turning the debate into onstage and offstage wrangling.
Consider its substance. TISA can be viewed from several angles.
One. Consider the nation's larger interests. TISA is a key component of ECFA's grand strategy "Today the Chinese mainland, tomorrow the world." It will help Taipei and its trading partners sign FTAs. It will help Taipei become part of TPP, the Trans-Pacific Strategic Partnership Agreement, and RCEP, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, and other regional integration agreements. The DPP understands its relevance. That is why it eventually endorsed ECFA during the 2012 presidential election.
Two. Consider cross-Strait economic and trade interests. TISA is unequivocally a unilateral Mainland concession to Taiwan. The operative word is "unequivocal." The Mainland has granted Taiwan nearly the same treatment as WTO members. Also, in accordance with FTA principles, it has made Taiwan 80 commitments that go well beyond WTO mandates. By contrast, Taiwan has given the Mainland only half the concessions normally granted WTO members. Taiwan has made the Mainland commitment on only 64 items. More than a third of these were capital investment projects previously approved. These were explicitly termed "stopgaps" in the agreement. Another third fell below WTO standards. A final one-third exceeded WTO standards. But these were granted almost exclusively to Overseas Chinese in recent years. By international standards, TISA was enormously favorable to Taiwan. But the Ma administration dared not underscore this achievement. It was fearful the opposition DPP would cast doubt on the Mainland's motives. As a result, TISA has perversely been spun as detrimental to Taiwan. This is deeply ironic .
Three. Consider the issue of management. Service sector market opening is primarily about investments. In accordance with international practices, nations allow investments to be made on the basis of national security , market order, and other considerations. Foreign investment and the attendant transfer of personnel is permitted. TISA opening commitments are a sensitive issue for the Mainland. Even a handful of national security concerns may be subject to individual examination. The scale of investment and personnel access is controlled. As long as the government manages the opening, it remains quite safe. There is no call for concern.
TISA has turned into a major controversy. In fact, it is the demagoguing of a phony issue. Why is it a phony issue? Four reasons. Reason One. If TISA had been signed between Taipei and any other government, the agreement would have been uncontroversial. Reason Two. Beijing sees TISA as an unprecedented concession, and an economic transfusion for Taiwan. If the Democratic Progressive Party were in power, Beijing would probably halt or reduce its investments in Taiwan. The DPP is the party that ought to worry about how to persuade Beijing to change its mind. Reason Three. TISA has raised concerns about Mainland industries affecting land prices. Some media and and special interest groups have exaggerated the impact, but the truth has gradually emerged. Opponents then resortd to questioning the government's committment to market opening and how long the control mechanisms would last. Reason Four. Beijing has maximized its concessions to Taipei. It is almost impossible for the Green Camp to reopen negotiations. Doing so would do Taiwan more harm than good.
Ma and Su agreed to debate TISA. Alas, the debate is more about political considerations than about facts or truth. President Ma faces endless criticism of his administration. Public protests follow one after another. He faces endless ruling vs. opposition controversy and public protests. Agreeing to a ruling vs. opposition debate may help relieve such public pressure. Besides, the Ma administration's cross-strait policy is its shining achievement. The debate may improve communications with the public. It may give it a leg up in the legislature.
The DPP was not originally opposed to TISA. Chairman Su Tseng-chang is obviously using the debate to revive the opposition party's lost status. The DPP hoped its opposition to TISA would pay off big time. It adopted an extremely very tough stance in the legislature. Anti-TISA groups began agitating. They argued that the Ma Su debate was no substitute for "citizen participation." Su Tseng-chang feels pressured to win this debate, or else. If he loses, he will not merely lose points politically. He may even become the target of anti-TISA forces.
Therefore each side has its own political calculus. The Ma Su debate is unlikely to be a focused, rational debate that reveals the truth. It may well degenerate into a manipulative and antagonistic war of words, in which the sole intent is to win whatever the cost. The side that loses may dig in its heels, intensifying the confrontational atmosphere, and undermining the passage of TISA in the legislature.
We urge Ma and Su to set aside the matter of winning or losing, and their personal interests. Instead, they should investigate the facts and to solve the problems that emerge in the wake of TISA. That way maybe both Ma and Su can be winners.
2013.09.02 03:50 am