Saturday, October 2, 2010

ECFA: Formosa Betrayed to the Butchers of Beijing

(In my previous article about the new ECFA (Economic Cooperative Framework Agreement) between Taiwan and China—or, rather, the agreement between Quasi-President Ma and those gangsters who hold China hostage—I alluded to the birdcage referendum law and the farcical “debate” over whether it should pass. In the photo above, you see the show horse Ma Ying-jeou, who, appropriately, is on the left. Ma's debate opponent, the intellectual Tsai Ing-wen on the right side. Since television is primarily an entertainment medium, it's easy to tell which would win. If Ma's opponent had been the sexy and popular singer Chiang Hui-mei (A-mei) instead of the well-informed intellectual Tsai Ing-wen, the debate's outcome would have been different.)

If ECFA is all that important to Taiwan, why were negotiations secret? Why was the legislature arm-twisted into skipping a public reading of the agreement so its contents would not become known to the public until after it had passed? Why was a referendum not allowed? Why was there no public debate until public pressure had become so great that it couldn’t be denied?
Quasi-president Ma’s answers to all these questions was that it wasn’t necessary. Having won the presidential election with 58% of the vote, he had a mandate to do what he thought was best for Taiwan. I assure you, I didn’t make that one up either.
The Taipei Times begged to remind Ma that he didn’t receive a mandate to rule by fiat. He received a mandate to fulfill his campaign promises. Beyond that, his job was to represent the people rather than rule over them.
There finally was a series of debates. For opponents of ECFA, however, it was like taking a knife to a gunfight.
Ma doubles as chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), and Tsai Ing-wen is the chairman of the opposing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP.) Ma understood that television debates aren’t about facts and reason; they’re about appearances and glibness. Ma took his movie star looks and glib tongue to the debate. Poor Tsai took her Zelda Gilroy looks and intellectuality to the debate. Even her gender worked against her.
Whenever Tsai tried to pressure Ma to directly answer a question, to back up his claims with facts, or when she questioned Ma’s reasoning, it worked against her. Ma came across as a courtly gentleman, and Tsai came across as a disrespectful egghead.
Even Tsai’s gender and marital status may have worked against her in the minds of some viewers. Who can forget the bone-headed legislator who once told her, “I don’t think we should listen to the opinions of a woman who has never been married.”
(In Taiwan, women in politics are judged by different standards than men. When Typhoon Marakot struck a year ago, Quasi-President Ma Ying-jeou waited three days to send help or even accept help from overseas, and people died as a result. When Typhoon Fanapi recently flooded the Kaohsiung area, Mayor Chen (a woman) acted immediately, from early morning until late in the evening; but, because she went home to change into some dry clothes and take a 20-minute nap during the afternoon, Chinese Nationalist Party legislators are demanding that she resign. Guess who else is condemning Mayor Chen for taking a 20-minute nap: Ma Ying-jeou, whose inaction during Typhoon Marakot got people killed—and nobody seems to notice the hypocrisy of it.)
The debate was a disaster. In the end, the debates taught the public little or nothing about the contents of ECFA, but it probably taught a lot of people that televised debates are more about style than substance.
Then there were the three separate efforts to force a referendum on ECFA. On legally dubious grounds, all three petitions were disapproved by the Referendum Committee. (That's the governmental committee set up to demonstrate that the government rules the people and not the other way around.)
It’s easy to see why the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (the KMT) opposed a referendum on the issue. The referendum law is, as many call it, a “birdcage” law. The KMT was pressured into voting for it, lest they lose votes for appearing undemocratic. Before passing it, however, they crafted the law in such a way as to make sure that no referendum would ever pass.
Before a referendum would even be considered by the Referendum Committee, a petition for a referendum would have to be signed by at least .5% of Taiwan’s eligible voters in the previous presidential election. Then another petition would have to be signed by 5%. Then a government committee would have to approve the referendum. Then 50% of the eligible voters would have to vote for it.
The KMT attempted to place further obstacles to referendums. They attempted to bar referendums from taking place on the same day as elections, but that effort failed. They did, however, succeed in making sure that referendums would not be on the same ballot as the election of candidates. To vote in a referendum, voters must stand in another line and wait their turn.
If a referendum should go as far as the polls, opponents can easily defeat it by boycotting the vote. That’s why six out of six referendums have failed. One referendum was approved by 96% of the people who voted, but it still failed. It failed because fewer than 50% of all registered voters had voted on it.
If ECFA had been permitted to go through the process of referendum, it would have failed as surely as the others failed. It would fail because, under the birdcage law, referendums are designed to fail.
Do you remember the gaffe-prone Premier Wu Den-yih’s dimwitted remark about the butchers of Beijing letting Taiwan sign free trade agreements (FTA’s) with other countries “because they realize that FTA’s were important to Taiwan”? Even before ECFA passed the Chinese Nationalist Party-controlled legislature, the butchers of Beijing declared that they would use it to prevent Taiwan from signing FTA’s with other countries. The legislature passed it anyway, knowingly giving aid and comfort to Taiwan’s sworn enemies.
Ultimately, the contents of ECFA don’t matter as much as the fact that it was signed and approved. Regardless of what advantages to Taiwan may be in the agreement, Beijing is at liberty to renege on them. Beijing is infamous for violating agreements. What matters most is that a huge chunk of Taiwan’s economic sovereignty has been delivered into the hands of Taiwan’s enemies. With it, Quasi-president Ma has given Taiwan’s enemies the means to eventually destroy Taiwan’s political independence.

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