The China Times reported today that Taiwan and China would begin negotiations on a “comprehensive trade pact” — an economic cooperation framework agreement — in October. The vice trade ministers from both sides would head the negotiations, the paper said, quoting Minister of Economic Affairs Yiin Chii-ming (尹啟銘). Yiin, who met his Chinese counterpart at an APEC conference in Singapore earlier this week, said Beijing was “keen” to push for the pact. The two sides will aim to conclude discussions by the end of this year, the report said, with possible signature at the next SEF-ARATS meeting in Taiwan later this year.
Of course Beijing is “keen” for the process to accelerate, as I’ve argued before, and judging from an AFP report on the matter today, which only mentions in passing that “critics warn against the island becoming overly dependent on its giant neighbor,” so are Taiwanese.
But here’s the problem: Many Taiwanese are not “keen” and the main opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party, has just completed the first step toward holding a public referendum on whether an ECFA should be signed, something that AFP could not even be bothered to mention.
AFP is simply regurgitating the usual “closer ties” developing between Taiwan and China, with talks on an ECFA serving as yet another symbol of “rapprochement” between the “former rivals.” There’s nothing new here. But for Yiin to say that negotiations would begin in October before the matter of a referendum — to which we must now add this week’s infuriatingly racist comic blunder explaining the intricacies of the trade pact — shows utter disregard for the opposition’s voice, as if it didn’t exist, or as if an ECFA were an inevitability. No “we’ll discuss matters with our constituents first and get back to you if and when we’ve reached a consensus on the viability of and urgency in signing an ECFA with you.” In other words, Yiin already knows that the referendum will either fail, or that the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration will somehow manage to derail it, or prevent it from being held in the first place. Either way, this is undemocratic and showcases yet again the Ma administration’s scorn for different views or criticism of its increasingly teleological cross-strait policies.
When millions of people oppose or have doubts about the benefits of a policy, a democratic government cannot assume that it can proceed unchecked. That Yiin would think so — and with Ma’s blessing, I gather — shows us that the government does not intend to act democratically when it comes to creating closer ties with China, even as Beijing has openly said that it sees an ECFA as part of the process for eventual unification.