Monday, January 24, 2011

Beans are spilled — ECFA is political

Studies show that in the past decade, Taiwan trade with Asia performed as well as, and in some cases better than, countries that signed various trade agreements from which Taiwan was excluded

It may have been inadvertent, but recent praise by US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and US President Barack Obama for the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) cut through the smokescreen blown up by President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration by directly pointing to its political impact.

Ever since the idea of a free-trade-like agreement between Taiwan and China was proposed, Ma and his government have emphasized time and again that the pact was purely economic in nature and had no political ramifications whatsoever. This position, stemming from necessary constraints, dovetailed with Ma’s promise not to enter political dialogue with Beijing during his term in office.

Though critics of the ECFA have not been deceived by these pronouncements and have repeatedly assailed it over its political ramifications, and despite open references to it by Beijing officials as an instrument of unification, Taipei has been unwavering in its claim that politics are extraneous to the agreement.

However, no sooner had Washington begun praising the trade agreement in terms of its political benefits than Taipei shifted gear and interpreted this as encouragement for extended dialogue with Beijing. Speaking at the US Department of State on Jan. 14, Clinton praised the ECFA and called for more dialogue and exchanges.

My op-ed, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

1 comment:

mike said...

"Washington’s indiscretion, if this is what it was, could arguably be blamed on the political necessities of the moment or a lack of understanding by Washington of the complexities of the political environment in Taiwan. Conversely, it could also be indicative of Washington’s ability to see the truth behind Ma’s wall of deception and its cognizance that the ECFA is primarily a political instrument."

You are bang-on there about the deceptiveness of Ma and the KMT, but "political necessities of the moment" for whom? Clinton and Obama surely could have chosen to praise ECFA as an economic agreement, if only to keep the Chinese delegation on their toes. If the gaffe was due to a lack of understanding, then that simply reinforces the dim view I take of the often weak and unhelpful, or downright treacherous attitude toward Taiwan and China seemingly prevalent among Democratic Party politicians (e.g. Barbara Boxer).

"Obama and Clinton may not have intended it that way, but their praise for the ECFA unmasked Ma’s little charade and showed what the trade agreement really is — a means by which to institutionalize dialogue across the Strait, with politics as the ultimate aim."

Or perhaps they did intend it that way, who knows? As per your allusion elsewhere in that piece, why was that gaffe not nipped in the bud by the people at State Dept? Could it be that the current U.S. leadership actually feels lukewarm about their commitment to stand by Taiwan? Certainly they seem to be anxious to avoid confronting the PRC in public.

Or maybe I'm reading too much into it - we all make mistakes.

Another good editorial Michael, though your reference to ECFA as a "free-trade-like" agreement and of "free-trade agreements" generally, though of course a standard feature of journalistic language, are an unnecessary abrogation of the non-coercion principle the term "freedom" pertains to. Free-trade agreements are actually nothing more than agreements to lower tariffs and restrictions on selected goods and services - so under such agreements, trade is still subject to coercive management. It would surely be sufficient to refer to these agreements as simply "trade agreements", without misleadingly qualifying them as "free".