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What Penghu means for Taiwan-China ECFA

What Penghu means for Taiwan-China ECFA

The course and result of the Sept. 26 referendum in Penghu County on whether to license the operation of international gambling casinos has bolstered the legitimacy of calls by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and other Taiwan-centric groups that a proposed "Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement" with the People's Republic of China should be ratified by national citizen referendum.
In the vote, local residents rejected the siren appeals of a forceful campaign by the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang, KMT) government, the local KMT-controlled Penghu County administration and domestic and international tourist, hotel and property development interests by voting to deny approval to license casino complexes on their archipelago by a decisive 56.4 percent to 43.6 percent margin among 30,576 voters.
Besides winning breathing space for a "clean Penghu" for at least three years, the vote exposed the hypocrisy of President Ma Ying-jeou's KMT government and the illegitimacy of its rigid rejection of demands by Taiwan-centric political parties and civic and social reform groups that the proposed ECFA with an authoritarian power, which has over 1,500 missiles aimed at our shores and openly aims at our annexation, should be ratified by national citizen referendum.
Ignoring ample international experience to the contrary, Ma and other KMT government leaders have declared that there is no need for a ratifying referendum on various excuses, such as the naive or deliberately deceptive claim that the comprehensive trade pact would involve "only economics" and not impinge on Taiwan's sovereignty or other political issues.
There is a striking parallel with Ma's promotion of the ECFA and the KMT-sponsored campaign in Penghu which grossly exaggerated purported benefits, such as claiming that casinos would annually attract five million tourists to the isolated archipelago, without any mention of the massive "external costs" of cordoned-off gambling 'zones" catering to Chinese tourists, the alarming social consequences of which can be readily viewed by visiting Macao.
Likewise, the Ma government has touted economic gains for certain industries, mostly petrochemicals, from the cross-strait ECFA while "professionally adjusting" the impact on other sectors and employment and wages in a feasibility forecast by the Chung-Hwa Institution for Economic Research.
Moreover, the Ma government has excluded from discussion the potential grave "external" negative impacts of "locking" Taiwan into the PRC economy and society on income and wealth inequality and environmental and health standards or the implications for the quality of Taiwan's hard won democracy and the defense of news freedom and freedom of expression of exposing our society to greater dependence on Beijing's Chinese Communist Party regime.
The need for Taiwan's people to have a right to ratify such a pact and therefore the right to veto the ECFA is reinforced by landslides of evidence of the poor administrative policy? capabilities of the Ma government and its lack of backbone in cross-strait dealings, as most recently shown by its craven refusal to allow Uighur rights activist Rebiya Kadeer to visit Taiwan and slandering her as being "associated" with "terrorists."
Moreover, it is evident from official opinion surveys that popular trust in the KMT government's propaganda for ECFA is ebbing along with the overall confidence in the competence and trustworthiness of the Ma administration, whose approval ratings are stuck below 30 percent.
For example, an opinion poll commissioned by the Mainland Affairs Council in late September showed that a narrow majority of 54.8 percent of the 1,091 Taiwan adults polled supported the promotion of a cross-strait ECFA while 26.3 percent were opposed, compared to the finding of a similarly commissioned poll of 1,067 Taiwan citizens in April which showed that 70 percent believed an ECFA with Beijing was "necessary."
It is telling that polls commissioned by the MAC have not dared to ask citizens whether they want a cross-strait ECFA to be subject to ratification by national citizen referendum.
To no one's surprise, the 17-member Cabinet-level "Referendum Review Committee," which has a stacked pro-KMT majority, vetoed on August 27 the petition sponsored by the DPP and signed by 123,462 citizens for a referendum on whether the Taiwan-China ECFA should be required to be submitted to citizen approval on the fatuous ground that the proposed initiative "did not involve a legislative principle or major policy."
Hence, the KMT government, which used its three-fourths legislative majority to ram through a special act to lift the stiff 50 percent turnout quorum imposed by the notorious "birdcage" Referendum Law of 2003 to make it easier for Penghu residents to gamble their future economic, social and cultural development on casinos, has reserved solely to itself the power to decide whether Taiwan's future should be bet on the uncertain economic stability and questionable good intentions of the PRC.
Only Taiwan's 23 million people are entitled to decide whether to place such a high-risk wager.
We therefore insist that approval of an ECFA by the KMT government or its captive legislature is insufficient and that ECFA with the PRC will not be considered valid until ratified in a national citizen referendum.