Taiwan's democracy is CECA bottom line

The groundswell of doubts and even opposition to a proposed "cross-strait comprehensive economic cooperation agreement" between Taiwan and the People's Republic of China compelled President Ma Ying-jeou to shift gears from advocating a CECA as "a fixed state policy" to an intermediary "Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement" (ECFA) Friday.
Ma's revision is not merely semantic, as there is a considerable difference between a "CECA" or a free trade agreement which are governed by Article 24 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade which undergirds the World Trade Organization, in which both the PRC and Taiwan (as the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu) are members.
This sudden switch from the position that a cross-strait CECA was a "fixed national policy" in the face of public criticism from ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) lawmakers as well as the opposition Democratic Progressive Party and Taiwan-centered civic groups, confirmed widespread impressions that Ma (and his right-wing KMT Cabinet team) lack mature strategic thinking and only focus on technical or tactical matters and on the form of the bottle instead of its contents.
The confusion caused by the KMT government's reversal of the proper order of the process and the evident inability of KMT government officials to get on the same page has likewise demonstrated the crude and immature results of the KMT Cabinet's habit of "manufacturing carts behind closed doors."
Ironically, we wonder whether PRC State Chairman and ruling Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Hu Jintao, who called for the two sides to negotiate a "CECA" under the framework of Beijing's "one China principle," is himself disoriented by Ma's semantic policy acrobatics between CECA and ECFA.
Time to come clean
While the KMT government's internal confusion is undoubtedly worrisome and embarrassing, the gravest issue in this flap is the evident inability or, more likely, abject refusal of the Ma government to frankly discuss and thoroughly discuss the nature of an ECFA and CECA and the attendant costs and risks as well as purported benefits with Taiwan's opposition parties, diverse economic, civic and social "stakeholders" and all citizens.
The high pressure campaign by the KMT government and its big "enterprise friends" that Taiwan must urgently ink cross-strait CECA (now to be preceded by an ECFA) avoid being disadvantaged by the implementation of the free trade agreement between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to take effect next year and the mantra recited by KMT officials that such an agreement would not impinge on political issues or Taiwan's sovereignty are actually breeding more doubts about the motives of the advocating parties.
Such suspicions range from whether the majority of Taiwan people will pick up the CECA bill for the benefit or a narrow range of business sectors, notably petrochemicals, to whether a CECA would further expose our economic and society to the risks of the uncertain Chinese market or undermine our political sovereignty by the prior erosion of our economic and trade autonomy.
Such concerns cannot be dispelled by the insipid mantra that an ECFA or a CECA or a FTA "separate economics from politics" since, as Taiwan's first WTO envoy Yen Ching-chang noted yesterday, "any major economic and trade agreement involves political content."
Evidence of the political content of a proposed cross-strait CECA was provided by Hu's own New Year's Eve six-point statement in which the PRC state chairman said that a CECA could link the "joint development of cross-strait economy with economic cooperation in the Asia-Pacific," a vista which contrasts with the PRC's ruthless obstruction of Taiwan's right to enter into FTAs with other WTO members.
Beijing's transparent political strategy is to allow Taiwan to only sign a comprehensive trade pact with the PRC itself and impose the economic binding of Taiwan to the PRC as a precondition for any Taiwan participation in other regional trade arrangements.
This strategy echoes the secret May 2005 "memorandum of understanding" between Beijing and World Health Organization Secretariat which has made Taiwan's "participation" in WHO activities contingent on prior vetting by the PRC Ministry of Health.
Accepting such a procedure would constitute an irreversible surrender of Taiwan's economic autonomy to the PRC and we can expect that, despite the windfall that may be snared by some business sectors, the overall consequences to our society in terms of employment, social equity, democratic freedom and even economic prosperity will be disastrous.
Given the attendant risks involved with agreeing to a ECFA as a "letter of intent" for a CECA or the direct negotiation of a CECA with a hostile neighbor, it is incumbent on the KMT government to frankly and fully explain the economic and political risks to our people and, as proposed by Democratic Progressive Party Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen, to take the initiative to agree to ratification of a proposed ECFA and CECA by national citizen referendum.