The ECFA Trap or Ma Ying-jeou's 'Pig in a Poke'

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Sunday December 15, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Begin with this basic premise, i.e. the well-known axiom that all countries operate out of self-interest. There is nothing wrong with that; it is to be expected. Of course, for a country to have more than one motive for action is also possible, but if self-interest is not a part of a country's modus operandi, then its leadership should be questioned. So when Taiwan's president Ma Ying-jeou begins touting the advantages of ECFA and its FTAs for Taiwan, it would appear natural for him to try to claim that its advantages are in Taiwan's interest. But is that the case? With a little scrutiny, it soon becomes evident that Ma is asking Taiwan to buy an unseen "pig in a poke" and the self-interest is not the country's but his own and even perhaps China's.

First the background, it is now some six years into the issue of Ma's bumbling incompetence and what has become Taiwan's standing joke, Ma's infamous 6-3-3 promise. Added to that is Ma's sagging popularity. His approval ratings recently hit a low 9.2 per cent--an embarrassing figure especially when one considers that Ma suggested that any president (and in particular Chen Shui-bian) should step down if his rating dipped as low as 18 per cent. Then come the smoke and mirrors. Throughout his presidency, Ma has been touting the image of how peace reigns in the Taiwan Strait because of his benign "kowtowing" to China, but does peace really reign?

As the world constantly hears this peace mantra coming from Ma's mouth, skepticism fills the air. China's 1600 plus missiles are still there. China's rulers still block Taiwan and have upped the discussion ante; they are now saying that the Taiwan issue must be settled in this generation. Of course "settled" for them means Taiwan accepting their dictate that Taiwan falls under Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) definition of "one China." At the same time, of course, prices on Taiwan continue to rise, salaries are going down, and housing prices are getting out of sight. Taiwanese are further ironically told that they should be happy that their mid-sized country with a superior economy has gotten the crumb of "guest status" at a recent international forum from China. So if things are so great, why do the people need to be told over and over again that Ma has brought this new "peace in our time" to Taiwan and a mythic prosperity to the country? Just whose reputation is Ma trying to salvage?

Now comes the pig in a poke. Without any real examination by the Legislative Yuan or the people, Ma and the leaders in his Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) are saying that the FTAs of ECFA should be passed quickly without further examination. But the crucial factor in this push is that while Ma touts the alleged advantages of these FTAs for Taiwan, he avoids the real question. What does China get out of it? All countries act in their own self-interest and a hegemonic China is certainly one that pursues its self-interest with a vengeance.

Does China need this ECFA et al. with Taiwan to help it solve its slowing economy? Is the Taiwan market of 23 million people crucial to the salvation of the economy of a country of 1.3 billion people? Do China's farmers and/or its service industries really need the market of Taiwan's 23 million people to save them? If China doesn't depend on Taiwan's market that much, why then would China's farmers and service providers need to bring their wares here, unless if to swamp, undercut and destroy the local markets of the Taiwanese. That can be a clear self-interest.

As this examination continues, another factor that must be faced in China's self-interest is its repeated blocking of Taiwan from innumerable forums, and how it makes no bones about considering Taiwan a rebellious province. China's handling of "rebels" in Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong are no comfort vis-à-vis its self-interest. Yet these obvious warning cries seem to go in one ear of Ma Ying-jeou and out the other as Ma promotes subsequent ECFA applications without examination.

Instead, in his self-interest, Ma continues to talk out of both sides of his mouth. In one breath he states repeatedly that the time is not right for political talks, yet in the next he says that they may happen at upcoming events despite the fact that there has been no cry for political talks from Taiwan's side. Ma further says that he will seek a political consensus on Taiwan before any negotiations, but then he proceeds to negotiate without that consensus. From the fabricated "1992 consensus" on, all talks between Taiwan and China have been restricted to a party-to-party basis between the KMT and CCP.

Taiwan is already a major investor in China and its major industries have moved there. Instead of putting more eggs in the China basket, Taiwan needs to develop a balanced international trade. If the Ma government really has Taiwan's self-interest at heart, it should spend its waning efforts in that area.

Thus the crucial question remains, if ECFA's FTAs bring no real economic advantage to China, what does China get from it? This is what has been at the heart of Ma's contrived attack on a wary Wang Jin-pyng who has pushed for further examination of the ECFA sack before acceptance. Taiwan is getting a pig in a poke and Ma is trying to salvage a reputation at Taiwan's expense. And China? One does not have to worry about China; it is taking care of its own self-interest well enough. ***

***Footnote: The 2014 Sunflower Movement would help derail Ma's ECFA plans and later lead to massive KMT defeats at the polls.