ECFA! It's More than Trade; It's a Matter of Ma's Credibility and Competency

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Friday June 11, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Any fool nation can sign a trade agreement with China if it gives China everything it wants. The question of ECFA is not a matter of trade with China; that is a no-brainer. The question is how and under what circumstances and conditions. In Taiwan's case it is even more; it is a question of the competency and credibility of its President. A well-known visiting professor of international trade negotiations put it this way. "If any of my graduate students proposed entering a trade agreement of such serious proportions as ECFA and forthwith set a deadline date for negotiations and agreement, I would fail him immediately." Yet here was Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou saying that come hell or high-water, the country must sign the ECFA agreement with the People's Republic of China (PRC) by the end of June; this challenges Ma's credibility and competency to the max.

No one is against trade with China. No one thinks Taiwan can pretend to ignore the belching twenty ton manufacturing behemoth that some call the Middle Kingdom of Pollution, Poison and Propaganda across the Strait. Taiwan is already one of China's biggest trade and investment partners. So why is Ma crying that Taiwan will be marginalized if it doesn't get on board with a non-transparent ECFA by the end of June?

Taiwanese and international scholars, academics, think tanks, the public have been consistently crying for transparency, a full analysis and examination of the risks and dangers, caution, the public's right to input, but Ma ignores all that and struggles on to justify his stubbornness.

To make it worse, Ma changes positions. He states that ECFA with China must come first; it will lead to FTAs with other countries; then he weasels and changes that to ECFA should lead to and then he changes that again to it might lead to. Mixed messages further abound. The PRC counters saying ECFA leading to other FTAs is not even on the table. The USA disagrees saying that there is no need for ECFA to precede an FTA with the States. And then Ma's Premier suggests that Taiwanese businesses should pull back from China. But Ma says push on; ECFA is the key; it must be signed by June. Why?

Ma's insistence resembles a previous insistence; at that time it was for a quick agreement on US beef imports. Remember the rush to the Beef Scandal? It was one more on the long list of mis-calculated fiascos by the eager beaver boy scouts serving Ma's guesses. Everyone knows the list, the Maokung Gondola, the botched MRT line; the failed Nanking W. Rd Circle revival, Typhoon Morakot, the slighting of aborigines etc. etc. Aside from matters of fluff and photo-ops, the public strains to find things that Ma is competent at.

No, Ma's credibility and competency have past the tipping point! Ma's gas tank has been running on empty for some time. Only gas fumes created by making new promises to cover unfulfilled past promises seem to keep it struggling on. That makes another list, that of unfulfilled promises. The promise to divest the KMT of its ill-gotten assets? That was made and vanished in 2005 along with the promise to deliver arms sales. The 2008 promise of 6-3-3? It was replaced by the promise of big-spending Chinese tourists that would turn the economy around. And that promise was followed by ECFA and the recent still-born Golden Decade. What promise will follow ECFA?

Taiwan must face some difficult choices. Hasn't Ma been out of his league from the time that he first became Mayor of Taipei? The signs have been there. They were there early on when the symbolic suicide of a devoted KMT supporter took place at Ma's City Hall. Remember that KMT suicide at City Hall? The dead body lay on a balcony where people could go for a smoke. The decomposing body was there not for a day, not for a week, not for a month, but for six months before being discovered. Who was in charge? This was not management by walking around; it was management by promise and neglect. This was the illusion of management created by PR, hype and photo-ops. And this is the fear that more and more Taiwanese now sense with Ma's demand that the blind ECFA be signed by the end of June. Credibility and competency? Is the corpse of Taiwan's economy, sovereignty, and/or nationhood the next dead body waiting to be discovered after the rush to ECFA?