Alexa

Taiwan's future is issue in ECFA debate

Taiwan's future is issue in ECFA debate

After months of paying "hard to get," President and ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou finally agreed last Thursday to directly debate his controversial plan to sign a "Cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement" with the People's Republic of China with opposition Democratic Progressive Party Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen.
The fact that this debate did not take place months ago reflects the Ma administration's habitual practice of push its China policy agenda in a top-down, unilateral and secretive manner.
The agreement by the president to a one-on-one public debate with the opposition leader reflects the intensity of public dissatisfaction with how the KMT has manipulated the ECFA talks with the Chinese Communist Party - ruled PRC regime without taking into account the majority views of Taiwan's 23 million people.
Ever since Ma pledged to sign the ECFA with China by June, criticism has centered on why the KMT leader is rushing to ink this pact with Beijing without explaining to our citizens what exactly the ECFA is and its risks as well as purported benefits.
After all, Premier Wu Dun-yi openly promised that the KMT government would not sign the pact with the PRC unless it was supported by over 60 percent of the Taiwan public, but recent surveys by pro-KMT media show that it lacks majority support and even that over 70 percent of the electorate still do not feel that they understand the ECFA.
Clearly, only a highly irresponsible government would sign a deal with the PRC, which still poses "clear and present" political, diplomatic and military threats to Taiwan's national security and international presence, without full explanation of the potential risks and without a direct public mandate.
Second, it should be obvious that the reason Ma has agreed to accept a debate with Tsai lies mostly in his continuing plummeting approval rates, which are mired in the 20th percentile even in polls conducted by KMT-friendly media.
Moreover, a poll conducted by the KMT - friendly TVBS network on March 29-March 30 of 1,005 Taiwan adults showed that only 35 percent approve of signing the ECFA and that 54 percent support ratification of an ECFA by national citizen referendum, with only 25 percent concurring with Ma's outspoken opposition to a referendum on the pact.
A debate for delay
Assuming that the agreement to hold a debate is not broken for "technical" reasons, the question now is whether Ma is sincere in his agreement to hold a debate with Tsai and to have genuine dialogue with the public.
After all, the Ma administration has continued to hold secretive and unilateral ECFA negotiations with Beijing and even reached tentative agreement with the PRC side on the content of the so-called "early harvest" list.
The most likely scenario is that Ma and his KMT administration aim to divert public attention to buy time for the ongoing "black box" ECFA negotiations between the KMT and the CCP.
Not surprisingly, KMT - friendly media has put prime attention on the form and technical details of the debate or have presented it as a skirmish between Ma and Tsai in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election instead of concentrating on the far more salient issue of what questions the two leaders should debate.
Clearly Ma wants to use the ECFA debate not only to "buy time" but also to rebuild his support within the hard-core "pan-blue" camp, while Tsai and the DPP intend to highlight the ECFA debate as a driving force to gain more momentum in the year - end special municipality mayoral elections and the campaign for an ECFA referendum.
However, Tsai will clearly be at a disadvantage as the opposition leader can not garner sufficient information on the current state of the KMT-CCP negotiations on the ECFA or other matters.
If the DPP and the public fall into this political snare and lose focus from the core issue of the ECFA, Ma and his KMT administration will gain time to pursue their agenda in accordance to their pre-set schedule and present a signed ECFA in June as an accomplished fact that the Taiwan people will have no choice but to passively accept.
In the face of his weak leadership and eroding domestic support, Ma needs to sign the ECFA to secure Beijing's assistance to ensure his re-election and the continuation of the KMT in power in 2012 and will therefore not easily renounce the ECFA regardless of the result of a debate or even if polls show majority opposition.
Therefore, the DPP leadership should realize that the "real debate" began with Thursday's announcement and should not be distracted by "formalism" but continue to expose the risks of the ECFA and press the case for a national citizen referendum on the pact and force Ma to candidly face the nation.
Ultimately, the core question of the Ma-Tsai debate will not be simply the ECFA, but whether the Taiwan people will decide their own future or allow our fate to be decided by the KMT and CCP.