Approaches to Cross-Strait Relations
Democratic Progressive Party Chair
Dr. Tsai Ing-wen
George Washington University
Democratic Progressive Party Chair
Dr. Tsai Ing-wen
George Washington University
The cross-strait relationship is not only one of the most important public policy issues in Taiwan, manifested in the security, economic and political realms, it is also an issue relevant to US interests and concerns in the region.
Cross-strait relations have taken a dramatic turn since the change of government in Taiwan last year. Mainly, President Ma has been engaging in rapid rapprochement with China, not only signifying the end of hostilities between two historically opposing political parties, the KMT and the CCP, but also bringing the two governments that the parties lead closer than ever.
At first glance, detente and embraces would have one believe that all is well and merry across the Strait. Indeed, tensions are reduced and communication channels have been resumed. However, although the cross-strait rapprochement has been welcomed by certain members of the international community, including the United States government, there remains a deep sense of anxiety and uncertainty within Taiwan as to whether the manner in which this government is getting closer to China will bring about sustained stability and prosperity, as President Ma has promised, or an erosion of Taiwan’s sovereignty, security, democracy and economic leverage.
I did not come here with the purpose of deconstructing the rosy picture President Ma has painted for the future of cross-strait relations. However, as leader of the Democratic Progressive Party, it is my duty to express the concerns of many Taiwanese people. As friends of the United States who share common strategic interests, the DPP also believes it is our responsibility to provide an honest and constructive assessment of how current policies might affect the future of Taiwan and the region. This is a complicated issue over which numerous conferences and policy debates have been conducted, and although I may not be able to cover all the complexities in this presentation, I will try to lay out the key areas of our concerns as well as our views on moving ahead.
Economics, trade and CECA/ECFA
Let me begin by talking about the area of economics and trade, a public policy matter of particular urgency in this time of global crisis. Since assuming office, the Ma government has made closer cross-strait ties the centerpiece of its economic policy, arguing that Taiwan’s economic future lies in China. At the core of this approach is the intention to sign an economic framework agreement modeled after Hong Kong’s CEPA (Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement), in which Article 2 clearly states the principle of “one country, two systems.”
What is the content of this arrangement, which the Ma government is calling CECA or ECFA? A poll conducted last month shows that 80% of Taiwan’s citizens do not know what this arrangement is. Economics Minister Yin also admitted in April that the ministry had not yet completed its analysis on the project. It is difficult to critique a framework that is opaque and not explained to the public. However, given the gravity of the economic leverage that China has already accumulated over Taiwan’s reliance, we have no choice but to present a number of principles and questions in hopes that Taiwan’s interests are defended as the government proceeds in the negotiations.
Our concerns about ECFA are both procedural and substantive. As a general practice around the world, no matter how much political goodwill or strategic impetus is in place, when major economic interests are at stake, trade negotiations tend to be a long and tedious process, involving consultations with the public and various industrial sectors.
However, contrary to practice, President Ma has announced the intention to sign the agreement with China by the end of this year as part of his economic revitalization plan, and the urgency of his appeal leads us to a number of questions and worries about Taiwan’s negotiating leverage:
First, what is the political price? The Hong Kong CEPA, after which ECFA is modeled, is premised on the “one country, two systems” formula, which the vast majority of Taiwanese people oppose as a political formula for Taiwan. The government has yet to make a clear and unwavering pledge that will rule out such politically compromising language from the agreement. President Ma’s positive response to Hu’s “six point” roadmap for unification and the “one China” framework has only provoked our concern that a heavy political price has been paid under the table.
Second, where is the transparency? The people of Taiwan and their elected legislators have the right to be informed and to take part in any agreement that will have a major impact on their way of life. We have demanded that prior to the negotiations, the government must conduct careful assessment by industry and sector, and the information should be made available to the legislature and the public. The previous cross-strait agreements made over the past few months took effect automatically within 30 days upon signing, without giving the legislature or the public a chance for review. Unfortunately, President Ma also rejected parliamentary speaker Wang Jin-ping’s proposal of establishing a “Cross-strait affairs supervisory working group” （兩岸事務監督小組）in the legislature. When facing a hostile country with such outright aggressive intentions, public confidence in the government is paramount to strengthening our negotiating leverage, and there is no better way to boost public confidence than transparency and consultation.
Third, who are the winners and losers in this arrangement and is the government telling us the truth? Our government tells us the good news: that the agreement will open the Chinese market for Taiwanese products. What about the other side of the story, or the bad news? When China starts making reciprocal demands, as Premier Wen Jiabao did recently at the Boao Forum in Hainan, of opening Taiwan further to Chinese products, what is the immediate impact on Taiwan’s agricultural and manufacturing sector? In an era of globalization and liberalization, the government cannot be protective forever, but in the current period of hardship, our top priority is in job creation. The DPP is concerned, just as you are in the United States, that some of our industries are not fully prepared for the adjustment and more manufacturing jobs will be lost. Our unemployment rate is at a record high at the moment, and increasing the pace of liberalization at this particular time may magnify the problem.
My party, along with representatives of various manufacturing and agricultural sectors, has demanded more thorough assessment and public discourse. And the timeframe of this year is certainly not enough for engaging our society in the policy process.
Fourth, what are the safeguards against political manipulation of our economic dependence? A fundamental discrepancy in cross-strait economic interaction is the fact that Taiwan is an economically AND politically open society, while our counterpart China is economically moving towards state-sanctioned capitalism and politically illiberal. How does an open society guard against politically motivated and state-orchestrated market incentives? Indicators of this problem are quite obvious. China carefully manages both timing and quantity of tourists and capital investment, to create illusions of short-term prosperity concurring with their political needs in Taiwan. China’s blockade of Taiwan’s efforts to sign FTA’s with other major economies is also an obvious indication of their intention to tighten the noose around Taiwan, leaving Taiwan with no other option but China.
While voicing our objections to the current economic approach, I want to be clear that we are not opposed to trade liberalization per se. Taiwan’s economy is highly reliant on trade and exports, and our accession to the WTO in 2001 is an important milestone in incorporating Taiwan into the global trade regime. The DPP is fully committed to supporting our country’s active role in the WTO. On a bilateral level, in terms of trade with China, while the DPP was in government, we pursued a policy of active opening and effective management, gradually normalizing the economic relationship in a managed way. Our approach allowed Taiwanese companies to take advantage of the growing market and investment opportunities China had to offer while at the same time reduced the potential risks of cross-strait trade liberalization. We began to negotiate and implement cross-strait charter flights, and we established a mechanism which initiated the visits of Chinese tourists to Taiwan. At the same time, however, we tried to safeguard Taiwan’s core economic interests by conducting detailed industry assessments and implementing adjustment plans in the process of negotiating and opening up. To offset the risk of over-dependence on China, we also actively pursued closer trade ties with other major and developing economies, trying to promote alternatives that would provide diversification incentives to Taiwanese businesses.
The DPP has been using every opportunity possible to remind our government of the need to respond to the anxieties of the people, especially those of industrial sectors that would be hurt by rapid liberalization with China. Unfortunately, the government’s rejection of mechanisms that would enhance institutional checks and consensus building, have intensified the divisions in our society, which in the long run would not be the best formula for sustainable prosperity. In my view, a truly win-win economic relationship should be one that is negotiated with calculated prudence, responds to the anxieties of the people, assures job opportunities, and involves dialogue with industrial sectors in the process of policy-making – not afterwards.
Security and international relations
We urge greater caution in negotiating with China in light of the fact that China’s ill intensions toward Taiwan have not subsided. On the diplomatic front, despite our government’s call for a “diplomatic truce,” China continues to impose obstacles to the international participation of Taiwanese people wherever possible. Earlier this year, Taiwanese women faced an even harsher blockade than previous years in trying to participate in the ECOSOC women’s NGO conference. Days ago, Taiwanese were also barred form attending activities of the World Digital Library.
Last week our government received an invitation to observe the World Health Assembly. While we would encourage our health officials to maximize this hard-earned opportunity to engage with the international network of health experts, at the same time we do have some reservations about how this invitation came about. It was negotiated in a very opaque manner, between unknown individuals from both sides at un unknown place. Contrary to the practice of previous years, where the Taiwanese people sought the support of international friends in a multi-lateral process, this year’s invitation, we fear, comes at great political expense. Mainly, the black-box negotiating process assumes China’s “right,” as an internal decision, as opposed to an international matter, over Taiwan’s space. The one-time invitation also gives China ongoing leverage in the coming years to extract concessions from us for their “permission.”
Neither has the security threat against Taiwan subsided. Ma as candidate during his presidential campaign had announced that as long as the Chinese do not remove the missiles threatening Taiwan, there will be no discussion of a peace agreement. We hold Ma accountable to his words and continue to demand that China stops immediately its hostile deployment against Taiwan. We welcome President Ma’s public commitment, made during his recent video conference with Washington, to continue the DPP administration’s goal of spending 3% of our GDP on defense. However, in reality the administration has cut defense spending for this year.
We welcome peace across the Taiwan Strait and we welcome the reduction of tensions. For many years, we have also been willing to establish Confidence Building Measures across the strait so as to reduce the possibility of conflict arising from accidents and miscalculations. However, sustainable peace can only be maintained if we stand from a position of strength, having the capacity to deter threats coming from China. On this point I want to express appreciation to the Obama administration for continuing the policy of supplying Taiwan with the necessary arms for our self-defense.
In the realm of security and international relations, our ties with the United States are particularly important. We recognize that toward the end of the DPP administration there was a bumpy period in our relations with the Untied States. We genuinely hope that confidence can be restored with Washington, and that a strategic convergence of interests will emerge while we continue to communicate our differences and concerns.
One lesson we have learned is the importance of communication and prudence. It is relatively easy to come here and say what our American friends want to hear. As a small country struggling for survival, however, our interests and priorities are not entirely identical to those of the United States. Yes, there are many areas of convergence, in the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait, in enhancing trade and exchanges, and in the survival of our democracy, among them. It is important to identify the areas of convergence and strengthen our cooperation in those areas. At the same time, however, we must find ways to communicate our concerns so as to prevent potential differences from coming in the way of our convergences.
Therefore it is not enough to say that we do not want to be trouble-makers, for once we stop defending our interests when a world power finds us “troublesome,” we will put ourselves in a position ever more vulnerable to the whims of Chinese pleasure or, for that matter, displeasure. The challenge for the leadership of a small country in engaging with other world powers, is how not to forfeit our own priorities but to build upon the strategic convergence that would give strength in defending our own interests.
As we commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act, we also recognize that the strong Taiwan-US relationship has been the cornerstone of peace, stability, security and prosperity in the Taiwan Strait. We cannot afford to have misunderstandings with our most important friend and ally regarding our strategic goals.
The same principle applies to our engagement with other friends such as Japan. We are extremely concerned about the deteriorating relationship with Japan. The mismanagement of incidents have boiled over into crises a number of times during the past year. It is unimaginable to us that the ambassador of Japan, one of Taiwan’s most important partners in the region, would be labeled a persona non-grata by the governing party. We believe that the restoration of confidence with Japan is not only a matter of bilateral concern but of our broader strategic interest.
This worries us tremendously. In the past, our quasi-alliance with the US and Japan was never a matter of doubt, for the stability across the Taiwan Strait required this geopolitical balance. However, what we see evolving at the moment in our government is a new strategic approach that stakes Taiwan’s future in Beijing. In all his eagerness to integrate with China, Ma has done less to strengthen our ties with other partners. The absence of a broader policy toward the US beyond the declaration that “I am not a trouble-maker,“ and the existence of tensions with Japan reflect this strategic shift and a fundamental difference in approach. While our government is increasingly relying on China as its gateway to the world, the DPP believes in the need to restore the strategic balance in our relations, engaging directly with the rest of the world instead of via Beijing.
Democracy and domestic politics
One area of strategic convergence with our friends in the United States is the strengthening of our democracy, which along with human rights is one of the values highlighted in the Taiwan Relations Act. We are proud to say that the people of Taiwan have, over the decades and with the blessing and support of our American friends, made tremendous progress in democratization. Today democracy, and the people that make up our free society, are Taiwan’s essential assets when it comes to promoting our international participation and confronting China’s encroachments.
Unfortunately over the past year symbols of the authoritarian past have been revived, while monuments commemorating our progress toward democracy are reduced. Within months of President Ma’s inauguration, his government changed the “Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall” back to the “Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall,” commemorating the dictator and his son who together ruled Taiwan through 37 years of Martial Law. Recently officials announced plans to eliminate the words “Human Rights” from the memorial park that the DPP government converted from the former Ching-mei Detention Center (景美看守所), where the former prisoners of conscience were incarcerated. Recently, the KMT made an attempt to revise the “Assembly and Parade Act” （集會遊行法） restricting the freedom of the people to assemble and demonstrate by giving the police greater authority to determine the nature, manner, and content of demonstrations permitted. What is also mind-boggling to those of us who want to move our society forward in a modern age, is that President Ma launched an official state offering ceremony to the yellow Emperor of China just last month.
The above steps are not just mere symbols or minor changes. They are direct assaults on the wounds of the many freedoms fighters who have made tremendous sacrifices in bringing about democracy and progress to Taiwan.
Our greatest worry is that in the process of engaging with China, Taiwan’s democracy is actually becoming more vulnerable to Chinese influence. This is not a problem unique to Taiwan, for Chinese growing economic and diplomatic leverage is silencing support for its human rights and freedom from all over the world. But for Taiwan, the issue is particularly critical. Democracy for us is the most important leverage in cross-strait relations, and we cannot afford to sit back and watch the gradual erosion of our liberties as the state tries to mute opposing voices. That is why on May 17 we plan to hold a large rally, followed by a 24-hour sit-in, to voice our positions in a way that can no longer be ignored by the government.
Democracy is one of the core founding values of the DPP. We will continue to protect and defend our democracy and liberty, as we have done in the past. I do not want to dispute President Ma’s ambition of “bearing the torch of democracy for all Chinese people,” and I genuinely hope that some day the people of China may also enjoy the same freedoms that we have in Taiwan. However, if we do not work on consolidating our own democratic institutions, preserving the impartiality of the judiciary, respecting a system of checks and balances over major public policy, then we will not be strong enough to even begin to have an impact on the democratization of China.
It saddens us that the KMT party and the government have invested more efforts in embracing China than communicating with the DPP and the Taiwanese people. One after another, the KMT leadership has rushed to the red carpets and banquet halls in Beijing while ignoring our questions and concerns. As a result, many of the grassroots foot soldiers who had fought the battles bringing about democratization in Taiwan have either radicalized or turned hopelessly apathetic. This, in my view, is not conducive to a healthy democracy, and neither will such radicalization and apathy provide the long-term stability that both Taiwan and the US seek to achieve in cross-strait relations.
The future of the DPP
When I assumed the leadership of the DPP nearly one year ago, the party was defeated, divided and wounded. Challenges have been immense as I proceed to lead the party on the path of recuperation. A core spirit of the DPP, illustrated in our party charter, is the principle of defending the weak and disadvantaged sectors of our society. That is why during our eight years in government we invested tremendous energy in establishing a basic social safety net for our people, so that the people of Taiwan may enjoy not only political freedoms but also equal access to education, healthcare and economic opportunities.
Our party members and our supporters expect the DPP to do more than win elections. We are also tasked with the mission of ensuring that the core values of our party will survive all kinds of political turmoil, and that the DPP will stand strong as a promoter of democracy and guardian of the political and economic interests of the Taiwanese people. The DPP must be strong for Taiwan’s democracy to be strong, and Taiwan’s democracy must be strong to have the leverage to face China in cross-strait relations.
To strengthen our position and policy influence, internally we have established an advisory think tank made up of former officials of the DPP administration, who have accumulated much experience in policy planning and implementation. We hope to maximize the expertise to develop our party’s capacity for in-depth intellectual policy discourse. We have also established a China Affairs Working Group, which incorporates former officials as well as the younger generation, in charting our strategies toward China and responses toward government policy. Recognizing the importance of broadening our base and building domestic consensus on China policy, externally we have held two citizens’ conferences on national affairs, as a platform for incorporating the views of the civil society, NGO’s, academics and other political parties in our discussion about Taiwan’s future.
Cross-strait developments have a vital effect on Taiwan’s future economic competitiveness and political survival. The stakes are high and we have no choice but to remain vigilant about where things are going. On a domestic level, we will try to broaden our grassroots organizational base by joining forces with industry sectors, in order to demand greater transparency, sensitivity and responsiveness from our government as they move forward with their negotiations with China. On an international level, we will continue to appeal to the international community, especially our friends in the United States, to support Taiwan’s democracy, international space and security.
I understand that many of you are involved in the Taiwan Education and Research Program here at GWU and may already be experts on this topic. Therefore while I am open to your questions, I also welcome your comments and thoughts.
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