Connect with the Mainland: The Only Path to Globalization
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
June 17, 2014
Summary: Connecting directly to the rest of world is of course desirable. If it could be done, why would anyone object? Alas, international political realities mean that the quickest way to connect with the rest of the world, is to connect with Mainland China first.
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Tsai Ing-wen has become DPP party chairperson. She has argued yet again that "The DPP will first connect with the rest of the world. Only then will it follow the rest of world in connecting with [Mainland] China. Ma Ying-jeou is embracing [Mainland] China, and moving away from the rest of the world." President Ma Ying-jeou lashed back. He said the DPP's notion of globalization was "globalization without Mainland China." This exchange perfectly reflects the difference between KMT and DPP understanding of globalization. The DPP wants to bypass Mainland China. The KMT wants to connect with Mainland China.
In fact, this exchange took place on April 25, 2010, when Tsai Ing-wen and Ma Ying-jeou debated the cross-strait economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA). Four years later, the DPP has yet again trotted out this outdated theory. But Taiwan, Mainland China, and the rest of the world have undergone massive changes. Bypassing the Mainland is irrational and impracticable. Yet the DPP refuses to budge.
During the Cold War, Taiwan's economic policy could ignore the existence of Mainland China. Now however, the Mainland is the world's second largest economy. The two sides have close trade and investment ties.
The DPP's chosen path for the 21st century has two obvious problems. The first concerns quantity. Severing Taiwan's connections to the Mainland makes it more difficult for Taiwan to connect with the rest of the world. This is why in 2010 Ma said, "The DPP's globalization is globalization without Mainland China." What he meant was the KMT's way of connecting with the rest of the world was not subject to artificial restrictions. The KMT wants to create a two-way street, from the Mainland to the rest of the world, or from the rest of the world to the Mainland. Neither is excluded, The DPP by contrast, insists on a one-way street.
The second problem concerns quality. In 2013 total imports and exports from the Mainland totalled 4.16 trillion USD. This exceeded the 3.91 trillion USD in trade with the United States. The Mainland officially became the world's largest foreign trade entity. The Mainland is also the largest trading partner of over 120 countries and regions. In one year it exports over 2 trillion USD in goods. It is the most important factory in the world. In one year it imports nearly 2 trillion USD in goods. Countries are scrambling to compete in the world market. We would like to ask the DPP a question. The Mainland is a super economic entity. When it sneezes, the rest of the world catches cold. How can Taiwan bypass it and still connect with the rest of the world?
One can evaluate the two parties' approach to connecting with the rest of the world from a logical perspective. One can also confirm through empirical means hypothetical historical scenarios. Suppose the winner of the 2008 presidential election had been the DPP's Frank Hsieh? Would the DPP's attempts to bypass the Mainland have led Taiwan closer to the rest of the world, or farther?
Ma Ying-jeou has governed for six years. During that time he "connected Taiwan with the rest of the world." This was an important achievement. One of the most representative was visa-free treatment. This enabled the public on Taiwan easy, visa-free access to the outside world. It was one of the most human mile markers. Before the ROC obtained visa-free treatment from foreign countries, applying for a visa in order to go abroad was an ordeal. Everyone knew what it was like. The procedures were complicated. The cost was high. People were often compelled to jump through hoops.
Once Ma Ying-jeou took office, he made visa-free treatment a focus of his effort to connect with the rest of the world. During his six years in office, he obtained visa-free treatment and instant visa treatment from 86 countries. The number of countries offering ROC citizens visa-free treatment increased from 54 to 140. The United States in particular was an important mile marker. The United States grants visa-free treatment to only 38 countries. The ROC is one of them. It is the only country without diplomatic relations with the US to be granted visa-free treatment. If ROC citizens want to visit other countries, 96% of them offer visa-free or instant visa treatment.
Suppose the ruling Democratic Progressive Party had assumed office in 2008? Could the number of countries that grant ROC citizens visa-free treatment have increased to 140? The answer is: impossible! When the Democratic Progressive Party assumed power in 2000, 54 countries granted ROC citizens visa-free treatment. When it handed over power to the KMT in 2008, that number was still 54. The DPP achieved nothing. It is unlikely the DPP could have done anything to change its dismal performance.
During its eight years in power, the DPP held 10 inconclusive fishing rights negotiations with Japan. Once the KMT came to power, two talks later it signed the "Taiwan-Japan Fishing Rights Agreement." One year after the signing of the agreement, catches of bluefin tuna in waters covered by the Taiwan-Japan Fisheries Agreement increased 3.6-fold. Had the Democratic Progressive Party ruled, it could have held 20 more talks yet have nothing to show for it.
Once Ma Ying-jeou took office, the ROC signed the "Taiwan New Zealand Economic Cooperation Agreement" (ANZTEC), and the "Taiwan Singapore Economic Partnership Agreement" (ASTEP). When the DPP was in office it tried to sign these agreements but failed. Before Ma Ying-jeou took office, the ROC signed four free trade agreements with five Central American countries. This accounted for less than 0.2% of our total trade volume. The second change in ruling parties restored the KMT to power. For every 100 USD in trade we received free trade agreement duty free treatment or preferential treatment. The amount increased from US$0.14 in 2008, to US$9.65 in 2013. It increased 69 fold. Suppose there had not been a change in ruling parties in 2008? Could the DPP have signed these economic cooperation agreements?
The DPP is trying. But the DPP strategy of bypassing the Mainland will not work. Unless it improves cross-Strait relations, the ROC cannot expand its international breathing space. These are clearly understood political realities. Over the past six years, little by little, the ROC has expanded its international breathing space, and made other diplomatic achievements. None of these could have been achieved through the DPP's policy of bypassing the Mainland.
Connecting directly to the rest of world is of course desirable. If it could be done, why would anyone object? Alas, international political realities mean that the quickest way to connect with the rest of the world, is to connect with Mainland China first.