Wandering China

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China pact a hard sell in Taiwan: analysts [AsiaOne]


China pact a hard sell in Taiwan: analysts
AFP
Source – AsiaOne, published June 30, 2010

CHONGQING, China – After reaching a sweeping trade agreement, Taiwan and China face the challenge of persuading the island’s 23 million people that Beijing has no ulterior political motives, analysts said.

The Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) signed Tuesday in China is ostensibly about commerce but many on Taiwan – which has ruled itself for six decades – fear it could undermine their hard-won de facto independence.

“It’s very difficult for the public not to harbour political concerns over ECFA,” said Tung Chen-yuan, a Taipei-based author of several books on Taiwan’s economic ties with China.

“Who would be naive enough to believe that Beijing has no political motivation behind the move? What would make it sign an agreement benefiting Taipei at time when Taiwan already enjoys a huge trade surplus each year?”

Taiwan’s trade surplus with China, according to the island’s own statistics, was US$37.6 billion (S$52.45 billion) in 2009, and ECFA is not likely to narrow it.

The agreement will lead to lower tariffs for more than 500 categories of Taiwanese products sold in China, but for only half as many Chinese-made goods sold in Taiwan.

Even a Chinese negotiator has called the deal skewed in Taiwan’s favour, and many on the island view the agreement as a bid to lock it into China’s political orbit.

Taiwan’s main opposition Democratic Progressive Party warned Tuesday that ECFA would relegate Taiwan to the status of a local government such as semi-autonomous Hong Kong and Macau in any talks with Beijing.

Those anxieties were reflected in Taiwanese newspaper commentary Wednesday.

“China is most happy from the signing as its goal of annexing Taiwan is moving smoothly ahead,” the Liberty Times said.

The Apple Daily said: “ECFA is a vitamin for Taiwan but we can’t take vitamins instead of regular meals. Taiwan has to rely on its own efforts to compete.”

The Economic Daily News, however, said the trade pact was a “critical first step for Taiwan’s participation in regional economic integration”, as the rest of Asia draws ever-closer to China.

China often buys political gains with economic concessions, but may have misunderstood the mood in Taiwan, said Zhang Baohui, an expert on China-Taiwan ties at Hong Kong’s Lingnan University.

“They underestimate the identity issue. In the past 10 years, the people on the island have shifted towards a Taiwan identity. Fewer and fewer think of themselves as Chinese. No economic benefit will reverse that trend,” he said.

Voters in the small, vibrant democracy could voice their anger over pressure from Beijing in presidential elections in 2012, analysts argued.

China should therefore mute talk about political ties, said Liou To-hai, a political scientist at Taipei’s National Chengchi University.

“What China should avoid doing is press Taiwan to talk about political or security matters for two or three years or at least not before Taiwan’s next presidential election,” he said.

For Taiwan’s China-friendly government under President Ma Ying-jeou, ECFA is a potential victory but only if the promised gains – including hundreds of thousands of new jobs – materialise, analysts said.

Ma’s administration also could ease fears by encouraging more open discussion of the pact, a debate hampered so far by the absence of concrete details.

“Since so many people are still worried about the ECFA, and no consensus has been reached on it, a referendum would be the socially least expensive way to arrive at a consensus from within,” said Tung, the Taipei-based writer.

But no matter what Beijing and Taipei may say, China is so huge and so close that it is hard for Taiwan not to feel intimidated.

“Because of the overwhelming difference in size, there is a concern that integration of the economies could make them lose economic autonomy and in the long run also political autonomy,” said Zhang of Lingnan University.

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Filed under: AsiaOne, Greater China, International Relations, Media, Politics, Taiwan, Trade

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