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Mar 13, 2009

ECFA and political negotiations

Taiwan's pan-blue bastion of English journalism, the China Post, editorialized thus on the 10th of March:

President Ma Ying-jeou has upheld his campaign pledge of “no unification, no independence and no war” and ruled out any prospect of peace talks with China, saying relations are too tenuous to consider discussing political or military issues.

Taiwan's protector the U.S., its own people and even its rival in Beijing endorsed Ma's “three-no” pledge, which helped him to win the presidency last March, defeating the ruling DPP's candidates of pro-independence platforms. The island's people, allies and even enemy all supported Ma's policy for status quo: a territory of the Republic of China.

All right. You will note a few things about this: first, the claim that Ma has "ruled out" the prospect of peace talks. This theme continues later in the editorial. And it is a very useful claim but there are some problems with it. Namely, it can't be true, and Ma hasn't said so much as he has stalled the topic of political negotiations. Why do I say that?

First, the ECFA economic deal is nearing completion, though the details have been withheld from the public, and there is good reason to believe it will be presented soon indeed. The legislature may or may not be given the right to review the legislation (Ma is trying to avoid that), but there would certainly not be time for a bottom-up referendum on the issue. Once that framework is signed, you can expect the Chinese banks to come here first and other direct Chinese investment to follow up. Since Taiwan already has so much invested in China, what will happen is that full economic integration will happen faster than anybody realizes, with only a few smaller issues like labor and agricultural imports remaining unresolved (those can always be smuggled anyway).

And while I can't find the link right now for the life of me, there was an article last week or so in a Western paper in which a Chinese professor is quoted as saying political and military talks will have to come soon, by summer at latest, because all of the economic and cultural issues will be done with by then. And that is certainly true. Contacts will probably start with some retired military officials.

The military question and political question cannot be separated, but you can expect some military resolutions first; I imagine that besides the missile build up freeze, you will have a tactical freeze on Taiwan's weapons purchases and the establishment of some contact lines and, when everything is going very well, perhaps a joint exercise or two -- aimed at the Senkaku islands/Diaoyutai? -- though that's certainly the most difficult thing to negotiate, even ignoring that it would make Japan and the US very squeamish indeed.

The question is, as I've blogged on before, when it comes to political negotiations, just what can be realistically expected? What sort of "intermediate settlement," as Hu hinted at in his speech marking the 30th anniversary of Chinese calls for reconciliation and peaceful unification, can truly be reached that would satisfy both sides? I still find it impossible to wrap my head around any serious progress on this front, and both sides have been tactically very quiet on this issue.


Tommy said...

The whole Ma administration has been doing a vigorous gig in the last two weeks to convince everyone that the ECFA negotiations are not political. I am interested in seeing how they will dance when the real political negotiations start.

Remember that the message we have been getting for weeks is that non-political negotiations don't require referendums. This may bite the Ma admin in the rear when they do start political negotiations, which, by their admission, are referendum worthy subjects.

阿牛 said...

Have they really implied that political agreements are referendum worthy subjects? My general impression is they are avoiding that topic altogether.

Tommy said...

I also think the administration is trying to avoid the referendum issue. But they are doing it by claiming that a referendum is not necessary in this case.

I think that saying that the ECFA does not require a referendum because it is not a political treaty does in fact make the implication that political treaties can be subject to a referendum.

Taiwan News, 11 March:
"Liu added there was no need for a nationwide referendum about the ECFA because the issue didn't touch on politics. The premier's statement confirmed the government stance, going against protests from the opposition that the accord will damage Taiwan's sovereignty and independence as a nation."

"MAC Deputy Minister Liu Te-shun [different guy](劉德勳) said it was too early to hold a debate on the issue because the council was still soliciting opinions from the pubic and government agencies.

Nor was it the best time to hold a referendum, he said, because the accord was an economic issue and until its framework was set it was premature to discuss whether its fate should be decided by a popular vote."

I am almost positive Ma and Lai have said this as well. Economic issues supposedly don't require referendums. So what of the political ones? That excuse won't work once they start political negotiations.

Tommy said...

Sorry, I forgot to include the source of the second quotation -- the one of Liu Te-shun. That was in The 6 March Taipei Times.