Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ma promotes ECFA to foreign press

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) continued his campaign to explain his rationale for signing an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China yesterday when he addressed the Taiwan Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Taipei.

In his brief introduction, Ma said that Sunday’s debate on an ECFA with Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) had helped increase the number of people who understood the trade pact, as well as public support for it, without providing sources.

“In the last 10 years, we have seen tremendous change in Asia. In year 2000, we had only three free-trade agreements,” Ma said in English. “By last year, the number went up to 58. Taiwan should not be isolated in this reform.”

“I’ve always said that we can handle diplomatic isolation, but economic isolation is fatal,” the president said. “We have to do something about it.”

This story, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here. (Foreground, right, hand raised, is me.)

One question I wanted to ask Ma, but couldn’t because my raised hand kept being ignored, was this: President Ma, you and your administration have repeatedly said that Taiwan must sign an ECFA with China because of regional economic integration. You claim that Taiwan does not have a choice. But the reason Taiwan does not have a choice is because China has now allowed other countries in the region to sign free-trade agreements with Taiwan. Granted, some of those countries, as you just said, told Taiwan they’d rather it sign an ECFA with China before they can consider negotiating an FTA with Taiwan, comments that nevertheless are an extension of Beijing’s diplomatic bullying. Taiwan should have a choice, but it doesn’t, and this is because of Chinese interference.

Now, how can we expect that Beijing will show “goodwill” toward Taiwan through an ECFA this time around? How do we know this is not a trap?

I intended to underscore my question with the following analogy, which though crude, in my view perfectly describes the situation: Beijing is like the village’s serial rapist who sees a poor young lady outside in the rain. First, it goes to the other villagers and tells them ‘You leave her alone and you do not allow her into your houses, or I’ll beat you up.’ He then goes over to the young lady and tells her ‘You are welcome to seek shelter into my house. Only after you’ve spent the night will I perhaps allow you to visit some neighbors.’

There is no doubt that Ma is a consummate dissembler and deflector, with an uncanny ability to take no position or to provide answers that can be interpreted in a number of ways to please everybody. Unfortunately, one glaring contradiction he made in one of his answers on Tuesday was not seized upon by the audience. After repeating that there is absolutely nothing political in an ECFA, he said that free-trade agreements not only concern matters of economics, but have “lots of political” aspects. How can an ECFA be apolitical when FTAs have “lots” of politics?

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