Cross-Strait Negotiations: Easy Things First, Hard Things Later
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
June 9, 2011
ARATS Vice Chairman Zheng Lizhong is coming to Taiwan. He will discuss the Free and Independent Travel Policy and direct cross-Strait airline flights. He will also meet with SEF Vice Chairman Kao Koong-lian, to review the effectiveness of past cross-Strait agreements.
The Ma administration took office in 2008. Since then, the two sides have signed a total of 16 agreements or memoranda of understanding. The medical and health cooperation agreement has been signed, but is not yet in force. Not counting this year, the two sides have signed an average of 5.3 protocols a year. But this year is already half over, and the two sides have yet to sign a single agreement. It would appear that the easy things have already been done, and that cross-Strait consultations have entered the "hard things stage." When the two sides review the effectiveness of existing agreements, they must consider obstacles to future negotiations, and seek constructive solutions.
Cross-Strait exchanges were once non-existent. The Ma administration institutionalized cross-Strait agreements within an economic cooperation framework. It liberalized and expanded long term trade and economic relations. It brought about systemic changes. Even more significantly, it reduced personnel costs, capital costs, and transaction costs. It reaped real economic benefits. Early harvest provisions for goods, finance, transport, tourism, and medicine yielded "cross-Strait dividends" and business opportunities. These were the immediate benefits of the agreements. But food safety, agricultural product inspection and quarantine, product inspection and safety, and intellectual property protection require closer cooperation on technical matters. Obvious results are not as easy to achieve. Efforts to seek common ground and establish mutual trust must continue. Consider cross-Strait cooperation on consumer product safety, implemented last year. Since then Taipei has issued reports on hundreds of defective products. Beijing has also conducted investigations, and achieved real results.
Late last year, the sixth Chiang/Chen meeting was convened. Cross-strait economic and trade agreements reached a nadir. The momentum from highly effective past consultations seemed to have petered out. ECFA included agreements over goods, services, investment protection, and dispute settlement, none of which saw real progress. The direction and structure of economic cooperation remained indeterminate. Consider the investment protection negotiations held during the second half of last year, Consultations went on for nearly a year. But they stalled over investment liberalization, personal safety, dispute resolution, and arbitration. Many of these had implications for the legal system, legal standards, and technical issues. Many had cross-Strait repercussions. They are understandably time-consuming. But ten months have passed, and no solution are in sight, The problem is probably not technical or legal in nature. After all, if one is flexible and determined to reach an accord, one can break any deadlock. In other words, the current predicament may involve sensitive political issues. Absent a clear political mandate, cross-Strait negotiations may remain stalled over technicalities.
It is better to get cross-Strait agreements right, than to arrive at cross-Strait agreements quickly. But wheel-spinning is a bad sign. The solution to our current plight is not difficult. As far as Taipei is concerned, we must forsake our "demand more, give less" attitude. Negotiations must strike a balance. It is true that the two sides are unequal in size. Political problems persist. Taipei's demand for full equality and reciprocity in negotiations ignores political reality. Blindly delaying normalization, and demanding concessions in return, represents unrealistic thinking. The key is lifting restrictions on the import and export of Mainland capital, in order to create favorable condidtions for consultation. As far as Beijing is concerned, it must look at the Big Picture. It must not be so politically sensitive. It must avoid interpreting everything in a political light. It must adopt a more pragmatic approach when dealing with simple technical issues. It must establish a more favorable basis for future consultations. More importantly, the two sides must solemnly confront the current deadlock. They need a push from those at the top of the political ladder. They must resolve problems relating to investment protection and disputes settlement. They must find solutions applicable to all subsequent negotiations. Apparently officials charged with cross-Strait negotiations have yet to receive such instructions and authorizations.
The two sides have reached an impasse. Are they deliberately slowing their footsteps in anticipation of political changes that may occur within the coming year? Will slowed progress in cross-Strait trade be a political blessing or a political curse? No one can say for sure. If slowed progress is the result of underestimating the problem's importance, then the two sides must allow more time for adjustment and reform. The two sides will convene their second regular meeting in September. Authorities on both sides look forward to breaking the deadlock. They are using the occasion of the Cross-Strait Economic Cooperation Council to break the deadlock.