Consensus in Taiwan is ECFA precondition

During a discussion with journalists last Friday, President Ma Ying-jeou stated that his Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) government could sign an "economic cooperation framework agreement" with the authoritarian People's Republic of China even if Taiwan's opposition parties and other interests opposed the so-called ECFA.
We believe that such a course would be extremely damaging for Taiwan's national economic and political interests and very unwise for the ruling KMT itself.
During his chat with reporters, Ma expressed a welcome willingness and even eagerness to hear dissenting views, but unfortunately, the president's statements also raised doubts as to how seriously divergent views or criticism would be taken.
For example, the president expressed his belief that "support for ECFA was in the majority," but fails to realize that his subsequent acknowledgment that "most people do not understand" what an ECFA is or what obligations such a pact would entail throughly compromised the weight of his claim of majority support.
Moreover, the president seems not to realize that a process of public debate and discussion toward a consensus position on ECFA is essential precisely because many Taiwan citizens, and perhaps a majority, are unconvinced for good reason that such a pact will not impinge on Taiwan's sovereignty or harm our long-term interests.
No more black boxes
While a poll released Monday by the Research, Evaluation and Development Commission showed that 51 percent of 1,083 persons polled support an ECFA, Ma is correct that current polls indicate that a narrow majority of Taiwan citizens currently support an ECFA, other polls conducted by pro-KMT government media show a far more complex picture.
For example, a survey of 1,113 Taiwan adults released by the staunchly pro-KMT TVBS network March 11 showed that only 29 percent supported an ECFA with the PRC with 31 percent opposed and 41 percent saying they did not know or had no opinion.
Moreover, 71 percent told TVBS that they did not understand the nature or content of the proposed ECFA, with 29 percent professing such knowledge, while 87 percent said it was incumbent on the KMT government to explain the proposed pact and 69 percent said the Ma government had not yet done so.
Moreover, 43 percent maintained that Ma was "excessively slanted toward China," with 40 percent disagreeing, and 44 percent said they lacked confidence in Ma's ability to uphold Taiwan's interests in the process of signing an ECFA with the PRC with only 37 percent expressing confidence.
In addition, despite the KMT government's position that there was no need to ratify such an pact by national citizen referendum, 48 percent of citizens polled by TVBS want ratification by referendum with 36 percent opposed.
A similar poll of 1,003 Taiwan adults by the Global Views Monthly carried out March 15-17 showed that 52.4 percent agreed that the government should sign a ECFA with China on the precondition that "the benefits to Taiwan are greater than the disadvantaged," while 28.4 percent opposed such a pact out of concern that Taiwan would be pulled toward unification.
Moreover, the vast majority of citizens want talks on an ECFA taken out of the "black box" of consultations between Taipei's quasi-official Straits Exchange Foundation and Beijing's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, which are based on the secretive party-to-party "dialogue" between the KMT and the PRC's ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Nearly 66 percent believed that ECFA negotiations should be conducted by our respective delegations in the World Trade Organization and only 7.4 percent agreed with using the SEF-ARATS.
Moreover, both polls showed that Ma cannot rely on his March 22, 2008 mandate as Global Views reported that 58.3 percent are now dissatisfied with his performance and only 28.6 percent approving and while a TVBS poll of 1,012 adults released March 19 showed that only 29 percent were satisfied and 49 percent dissatisfied with Ma's record.
Given the apparent lack of robust support in ECFA and the lack of confidence in the KMT government's capability to defend Taiwan's interests in such talks, it would be advisable for Ma to break with the KMT government's practice of decision-making behind closed.
Precisely because of the manifest importance of an ECFA to Taiwan's future, any attempt by the KMT government to railroad such a pact with China over the objections of opposition parties and the doubts of a majority or a large plurality of the Taiwan people would create major risks to its implementation and the legitimacy of the KMT government.
President Ma may not realize that last March's mandate only permits he and his party to govern Taiwan for four years and does not constitute a blank check to impose an electoral autocracy.
Hence, the public would benefit from a face to face public discussion between President Ma and DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen on core economic and political issues involved with a ECFA with the PRC and we urge both leaders to cease petty sparring and arrange such a session as soon as possible.