ECFA Double-Ying Debate, first Impressions

If a man fights best with his back against the wall, Ma Ying-jeou‘s (馬英九) performance today might serve as an example. In terms of show(wo)manship, I believe that he and Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) were equally matched.

That’s not to say that Ma had better points than Tsai. The question remains if an agreement with Beijing actually has to precede agreements with other regional trading nations (most specifically ASEAN members), if these agreements will only become possible after Taipei reaches agreement with Beijing, or if free-trade agreements with countries other than China wouldn’t be possible at all (or only last as long as agreement with Beijing does). The latter two are questions the ASEAN member countries themselves would have to answer. They and Taiwan are WTO members and can build on their common membership, if both ASEAN and Taiwan are prepared to do so.

The details of the negotiations also remained obscure in the debate. That’s not unnatural, given that ongoing negotiations were the topic – it would be hard for the Taiwanese negotiators to achieve concessions from China in a certain field first, and trade it for a concession elsewhere later – a already apprehensive public will see any concessions made, rather than any concessions earned. The main problem doesn’t appear to be the way the negotiations are conducted. The main problem is the “partner” with whom Taiwan is conducting them. China’s underlying and publicly confirmed agenda of annexing Taiwan – by force if necessary, and slowly and stealthily if possible -, is the cardinal problem.

Understandably, president Ma appealed to the courage – and the trust – of the Taiwanese people. His administration has been lacking a success story to date, and he is obviously determined to make ECFA one. But smaller steps would engender public trust more easily than a comprehensive trade agreement with a country which, after all, explicitly denies and threatens Taiwan’s sovereignty.

During Ma Ying-jeou’s and Tsai Ing-wen’s discussion, there were several references to Taiwan’s dignity. The way this debate was organized and carried out was a showcase of the country’s luster. Besides, it shows that Taiwan could negotiate FTA’s – with whomever – much more easily if more governments and people around the world were more prepared to support its sovereignty.


ECFA Debate highlights with English translation, Taiwan News, April 26 (Taiwan time)

Taiwan President, Opposition Leader debate, Kyodo, April 25, 2010
Referendum on ECFA: How it might happen, April 23, 2010
Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, Wikipedia

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