Chicken vs. Pig Pundits on Trade and Taiwan's Future

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Monday April 28, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

One would be hard pressed to find anyone in Taiwan who is per se against making money. Likewise one would be hard pressed to find anyone in Taiwan who is against trade between nations. That said, there are trade agreements and then there are trade agreements. And among trade agreements, certainly, not all agreements are equal; some may be unequal and some can even be disastrously unequal. This is the situation that Taiwan currently finds itself in as the critical consideration of the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) and the occupation of its Legislative Yuan has reached its conclusion.

The Ma administration has from the very beginning been doing all in its power to impose this trade agreement on the nation without proper legislative review. The students, opposition parties and others have been opposed to this ham-fisted way of running a country. For them this signifies an attempted return to the old authoritarian one-party state ways of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and its White Terror and Martial Law days. Throughout the past standoff, all sides had called upon PR agents, spin-doctors and pundits of all sorts to aid their cause. But beneath this, the real issue has been more than trade, it has included representative democracy and a government that thinks it can subvert that.

With more resources, the Ma government has of course been able to call on a greater variety of commentators and pundits to bolster its position. These even included American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) affiliates David Brown and Richard Bush, to support its side of the agreement. But rank and sheer volume do not mean such commentators are correct. The whole business recalls the well-known business proposition of the chicken to the pig. The chicken suggests that they go into business together. What product asks the pig? The chicken states happily, "We can make ham and egg sandwiches and market them! They are very popular and we will both get rich." The pig declines saying, "Thanks, but no thanks, I don't mind profit, but getting rich in the way that you suggest is a prejudiced agreement. From your side, you are only involved, but for me it is a life ending commitment." The standpoint on trade that the Ma government and its pundits have been promoting reflects the involvement of the chicken. For the people of Taiwan, it sounds too much like they are being asked to be the sacrificed pig.

Hence the impasse. The goodness of such trade is of course what is echoed by the majority of chicken pundits outside Taiwan. Ma himself aids this by refusing to let the dangers of this trade agreement receive proper examination. But as said this has not been just a matter of those for trade and those against. It also suggests the difference between a president who is involved with but not committed to the country he represents.

This precarious position further reflects the wider plight and position of Taiwan over the past decades. Taiwan is a mid-sized nation; it is larger in population than 75 per cent of the countries in the United Nation (UN). Its economy places it in the top twenty countries of the world. It has a thriving, hard won democracy and yet because of the financial pressure and politicking of the People's Republic of China (PRC), it is at risk. Further, as Taiwan strives for the long over due recognition it also watches the failed promises of democracy the PRC gave Hong Kong and how the people in Hong Kong classify the Chinese as locusts streaming across their border.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Back in 2007, this writer joined four other scholars and advocates of Taiwan in a tour of seven major capitals of Europe. The purpose was simple and direct; we sought to gain economic space and recognition for Taiwan and to balance the continued efforts of the PRC to isolate Taiwan. In each of those capitals, we met with and spoke to legislators, members of think tanks, educators, media etc. and as we did so we found a striking difference in reception.

The capitals visited were Brussels, Paris, Prague, Berlin, Warsaw, Budapest, and London. In Brussels, Paris, Berlin and London the majority of response was similar to the involvement standpoint characteristic of chicken pundits. "Don't rock the boat; don't upset China! Just let trade flow and we will all get rich," This was their major mantra. In sharp contrast to this was the reception received in Prague, Warsaw and Budapest. These people had a completely different thought. Their countries had experienced decades of life in the Soviet Bloc. They understood trade and economics from the standpoint of the pig living in a Communist socialist system.

This is why Taiwanese must ask questions of their president and the KMT. The trade agreement has not yet had proper legislative review. For Ma to claim that it cannot be taken back is nonsensical. Why does he say that? Has a secret deal been brokered that he would have to renege on? Is the Ma government so desperate to boost its ratings and flagging economic promises that it would endanger the country? Is it simply a matter of face for Ma? Have certain select industries been promised a big slice of the pie at the risk of others? Throughout this deal Ma seems to take the chicken standpoint and be only involved with Taiwan but not committed to it.

The students and all who support them on the other hand have not been in this protest for financial gain. In many respects like the pig, they realize the risk to their future and know how they have a lot more to lose. By their commitment the students are putting their education and career on hold. They as Taiwanese sense they are being asked to commit to an unexamined trade deal where a few may profit, but at a great cost to the rest. And they also see that their democracy is at stake. And China? China is more like the wolf looking to enjoy a nice ham sandwich.
Where do you stand? ***

*** (Footnote: These issues and the blackbox trade agreements were the basis for the Sunflower Protest.)