We Resist China, Not Free Trade
In this exclusive interview, heavyweight DPP policymaker Joseph Wu sets out the opposition party's case for opposing economic entanglement with China, and pursuing a path of international trade beneficial for Taiwan.
We Resist China, Not Free TradeBy Jung-Shin Ho, Kwangyin Liu
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 545 )
Joseph Wu, former chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council and Taiwan's representative to the US during the DPP's terms in power, has been strongly favored by DPP party chairman Su Tseng-chang, earning positions as DPP policy director and DPP representative to the US, as well as being instrumental in formulating the party's cross-strait policy.
Wu headed to the United States during the height of the Sunflower student movement to line up international support. In this exclusive interview with CommonWealth Magazine following his return, he argues that the Taiwanese people are opposed not to free trade, but the China factor, and feel suspicious of how the government has handled the agreement.
Everyone is keen to know how the US views the recent Sunflower movement. Actually, the US has no official position on it. From the initial remarks by the State Department's deputy spokesman right through the discussion by AIT (the American Institute in Taiwan) today (April 10), the US has not changed its stance.
The United States holds that different opinions should be given equal expression in a peaceful and civilized fashion. This is not a condemnation of the students, but rather to say that both sides should be peaceful and civil. So theirs is a neutral position.
The Ma Ying-jeou administration has stressed over and over that the controversy over the Cross-strait Agreement on Trade in Services will make Taiwan lose its international credibility. However, I have been canvassing the Taipei diplomatic community, and the international viewpoint is that China is a unique case for Taiwan, because the service trade agreement places into focus not the Taiwanese people's opposition to free trade, but rather the China factor, as well as further concerns over the manner in which the government handled the agreement. In other cases, the DPP has applauded free trade agreements, for example, with Singapore and New Zealand.
It is true that some countries are so concerned with what China thinks that they won't enter free trade agreements with Taiwan. For instance, one country confided to me that their country is a mess domestically and that China puts so much pressure on them that any agreement they sign with Taiwan would put them in hot water.
On the other hand, countries that already have free trade agreements in place with China are not subject to as much pressure. And some other countries feel that such pressure is unwarranted given that Singapore and New Zealand have established precedent by reaching trade agreements with Taiwan. Then there are the countries that have bad relations with China, who are even less concerned.
So the bottom line is, I don't think the furor over the service trade agreement has such sweeping implications.
Haste Costs Mistakes
If the service trade agreement stalls, it will be followed by a cooling off period in cross-strait relations. After Mainland Affairs Council chairman Wang Yu-chi's visit to China, the Ma Ying-jeou administration wanted to have Zhang Zhijun (minister of the PRC's Taiwan Affairs Office) visit Taiwan, followed by a summit between Ma Ying-jeou and Xi Jinping. However, the furor over the trade pact throws a spanner in the plans for such a meeting of cross-strait leaders.
Ma Ying-jeou's stubborn adherence to pushing through these policies has young people disgusted, leading to 500,000 people taking to the streets in protest. If the administration continues to press on with this agenda, causing further backlash, would it not damage China's interests?
People are up in arms over the service trade agreement chiefly because of the way in which the Ma administration unilaterally pushed forward the controversial agreement while insisting that not a word could be changed. This was bound to raise the public's suspicion, wondering if one day they might wake up and discover the government had signed some other agreement with another party, also not subject to any revisions. That would only cause bigger problems.
If the service trade agreement does not get passed, a proposed pact on the trade of goods will surely face difficulty.
Ma Ying-jeou announced during an international press conference that the agreement on trade in goods was 80 percent prepared, to the surprise of everybody. Isn't that repeating the same mistake?
Haste costs mistakes. Let's hope the Ma administration does not make the same mistakes again.
China's current strategy towards Taiwan was set over a year ago and the storm over the service trade pact should not affect it significantly. Instead, if something can't move forward, it will tend to cool down for a while.
I have heard some Chinese scholars taking the same viewpoint as before, implying that the DPP has been behind the student movement and expressing disbelief that the students could have such a strong capacity for mobilization.
If they had the chance to see the student movement for themselves they would feel differently. We would also do our best to clarify the situation, so as to avoid any unnecessary misunderstandings should the DPP win the 2016 presidential election.
Another issue for the student movement is concerns over free trade itself.
Taiwan's agreements with New Zealand, Singapore and China are all components of free trade. It works the same way all over the world, with winners and losers, the winners being big business and the younger generation taking the biggest hit. The unemployment rate among Taiwanese youth is three times the average, and their monthly wages have slid back to where they were over a decade ago.
Opening Requires Accompanying Measures
However, Taiwan cannot escape the tide of free trade. Even if it cannot reach an agreement with China, it must consider entering free trade agreements with other countries.
Mainstream opinion within the DPP favors signing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as it would help diversify trade for Taiwan. We have consistently lobbied the US to support Taiwan's entry into the TPP.
However, if Taiwan does not make proper preparations, the gap between the winners and losers will continue to yawn.
Consequently, at the same time we go about promoting free trade agreements we must work to implement related policy measures. For instance, a minimum wage increase, encouraging corporations to hire young people, or offering small business start-up loans, or perhaps letting less competitive universities bow out of that arena and go back to concentrating on vocational education.
One of the government's major responsibilities is industry structural reform, and we do not see any real efforts in this area.
If industry lacks competitiveness, increased trade liberalization will harm it. The government claims to have set up funds, but we cannot see which industries it wants to help upgrade technically, or how it will help young people match new inventions with commercial applications.
On New Year's Day 2014 Ma Ying-jeou announced the formation of a private sector TPP promotional committee, which people from all sectors of society and the opposition party would be invited to join and work together in. We have been ready and waiting for him, but nobody has approached us up to now. The government is all talk and no action, and should be held accountable.
Translated from the Chinese by David Toman