Sunday, June 06, 2010

The Shifting Sands of ECFA FTAs

A scooter darts through traffic in Taipei.

Error? Theatre? You make the call. Last week there was an enormously embarrassing moment for the Ma Administration/KMT's push for the free trade agreement with China when a PRC spokesman offhandedly appeared to rule out Taiwan getting free trade agreements (FTAs) with other nations after the sellout deal is inked. The Ma Administration responded by becoming upset that China had forbidden FTAs....via Taiwan Today last week:

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council strongly opposes the efforts of Beijing in obstructing the country from signing free trade agreements with other economies.

“World Trade Organization members have the right to enter into FTAs as they see fit,” a MAC official said June 1. “Taiwan is a WTO member and must be allowed to exercise this right.”

The MAC official was responding to Ma Zhaoxu, mainland China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman, who said Beijing stands against Taiwan concluding FTAs with other countries.

China later pooh-poohed the whole thing, saying that officials in Taipei had made a mountain out of a molehill and were reading too much into an offhand statement buried in a long presser focused on many issues. Despite the unimportance of the comments (according to Beijing) they still found it necessary to edit the transcript to make it appear the spokesman had not been so categorical.

Note, though, that if the intent of the Ma Administration's strong reaction was to get China to forthrightly state FTAs after ECFA would be permitted, it was a decided failure. As one commenter on my blog niftily put it:
Exactly. If Beijing was really going to allow Taiwan to sign FTAs with other sovereign nations then now would be a great time to make a clear and unambiguous statement eh? Clear up the misunderstanding...


Yeah. That's what I thought.
Yup, China completely failed to make a positive statement on FTAs. This has led to another propaganda blitz from President Ma et al, with Administration officials repeatedly asserting that the WTO allows Taiwan to have FTAs with other countries. But President Ma has also been out there, a veritable propaganda Rommel, leading from the front (CNA):
President Ma Ying-jeou said Thursday that Beijing should not disrupt Taiwan's efforts to forge free trade agreements (FTAs) with other countries, stressing that Taiwan must take this path because its economy is its lifeline.

Ma made the statement, the third of its kind in two days, in a meeting at the Presidential Office with a group of representatives of Taiwan business associations in China.
As one observer pointed out, note the subtle shift. Ma used to say that Beijing would of course permit FTAs once ECFA was signed. But now Ma is saying that Beijing should not disrupt -- in an interview with BBC the other day Ma said it should not stand in the way -- of FTAs. AP reported in an excellent piece (be sure to read all) on the public's guarded rejection of ECFA that Ma also said the same thing at a KMT party shindig:
"It is a right of the members of the World Trade Organization to pursue free trade agreements with each other, so Taiwan should not face any interference when exercising such a right," Ma told a ruling Nationalist Party meeting Wednesday. "I have also urged China not to prevent Taiwan from signing free trade agreements with our major trade partners."
Ma has moved from hectoring Taiwanese to hectoring Beijing. Why? This dust-up has coincided with a number of reports that the ECFA signing, which Ma had been pushing to be done this month, may be delayed. One wonders if the negotiations are not going well, and the Administration was seeking an excuse to explain the delays. And lo and behold, some PRC spokesman opened his mouth.....
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Anonymous said...

OK, President Ma - if Taiwan can have FTAs, start negotiating them now. No need to wait for China's permission, riiiiiight?

D said...

You'll love the Taiwan portions of this interview:

The rest is pretty good too, like the idea that Tiananmen happened because China had no local police at the time.

Marc said...

Ol' DiFi of SF and her husband Dick Blum have long had personal vested interests in China. Here's another pol Taiwan can't count on.

Tommy said...

Ma's propaganda blitz is interesting to watch in that it portrays weakness rather than strength. Beijing "should not" obstruct Taiwan. Taiwan "must be allowed" to exercise its rights.

It sounds to me like Ma is whining.

Jan in Taiwan said...

Taiwan area ?

In my collection of CI business cards this title has been used over the decades. That's a likely leftover from the times China Airlines (CI) was founded in 1959 and Taiwan considered an area of the ROC to be recovered. KLM, the airline after which CI was molded also used the terms 'area manager', so it may have morphed into VP Taiwan area.

EVA Air is even better in the fudging titles game: junior-, senior-, deputy-, VP , EVP and no published organisation chart.

Government influence: the China Aviation Development Foundation is still holding the majority of shares in this 'private' company: 53.88% on December 31 2008. Remember when Singapore Airlines failed to buy and take over CI ?

After ECFA Air China may be a better candidate. It would solve a lot of name and domestic vs international traffic rights problems.