Lee Teng-hui: ECFA “Most Serious Mistake”

Taiwan’s former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) said that president Ma Ying-jeou, by signing the economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA, 两岸经济合作架构协议) with China, would bow to business pressure, thus falling into China’s plot of hijacking Taiwan economically to force unification. In a message to a forum on the impact of ECFA, hosted by the Taiwan Advocates think tank, Lee also accused Ma of back-pedaling on human rights and democracy. Lee sent a message and chose not to attend himself because of a cold (China Post), or pneumonia (Lianhe Zaobao).

Reacting to Lee’s criticism, presidential spokesman Tony Wang (王郁琦) said that the Presidential Office respected Lee’s views, but that ECFA was aimed at revitalizing Taiwan’s economy. Less serenely, KMT deputy secretary general Chang Jung-kung said that Lee Teng-hui’s two-states theory had failed.

Taiwan’s economic minister Yiin Chii-ming said that the government would continue to negotiate with opponents to the ECFA plan, so as to achieve consensus on the plan. On the Taiwan Advocates‘ forum, an official from the economic ministry argued that given the existing free trade agreement between ASEAN and China (to take full effect by 2010), Taiwan’s competitiveness vs ASEAN would suffer without signing ECFA, as customs to be paid by Taiwanese exporters to China would then be five to ten per cent above ASEAN exporters’.

Taiwan hopes to participate in ASEAN and neighboring countries’ summits in the future. So far, ASEAN plus Japan, South Korea and China had regular summits in a ASEAN-plus-three pattern;  Australia, New Zealand, and India more recently became part of ASEAN-plus-Six summits. The Philippine’s finance minister Gary Teves told an audience at the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research (台灣經濟研究院) in March this year that Taiwan had good opportunities to join ASEAN-plus-Seven summits in the future, but this would require a nod and a ‘yes’ from China.

An article on a government website in April this year (by an author whose views are not necessarily those of the website) suggests that the proposed ECFA should include a clause stipulating that each party is willing to allow the other to sign RTAs [regional trade agreements] with other WTO members, for caution about an asymmetric dependence on China, created by ECFA. If the government will insist on such a clause in its negotiations is obviously a different question.

Lee may not only be driven by an innate feeling that any kind of dependence on China would be dangerous anyway. President Ma and his cabinet have also come under more general criticism for not handling the ECFA negotiations in a steady and professional way. That and an apparent unwillingness by the government to keep the public informed may have alarmed the elder statesman, too.

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