Asia-Pacific, Development & Aid, Headlines, Human Rights

TAIWAN: Activists Seek More Safeguards in Accords with China

Dennis Engbarth

TAIPEI, Oct 22 2010 (IPS) - Activists here are calling for the use of democratic mechanisms and enhanced transparency to “hedge” risks posed to Taiwan by a series of agreements negotiated between Taipei and Beijing.

Since taking office in May 2008, Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou has been practising ‘paper diplomacy’ in a drive for ‘reconciliation’ with the government of mainland China, across the Taiwan Strait, after over a decade of tensions.

Since then, more than 12 pacts – including the controversial Cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) – have been inked by Taipei and Beijing. This December, yet another round of document signing, this time on investments and medical cooperation, is expected to take place between representatives of the two governments.

So far, the tactic seems to have worked at easing tensions across the strait.

However, while Ma and his government, led by the Kuomintang party, maintain that these agreements have accelerated bilateral trade, tourism, and investment flows, many Taiwan citizens are not comfortable with what they perceive as their negative side effects.

“In the wake of the signing of ECFA, the impact of the Chinese economy on Taiwan is not simply an abstract risk but is happening now and is promoting excessive economic dependence, worsening income distribution equity and eroding human rights standards,” says Taiwan Labour Front secretary general Son Yu-lian.

“We cannot ignore China,” he says, “but (we) should try to avoid excessive dependence on the Chinese economy and should also maintain basic standards of human rights, social justice and political democracy and transparency in our interactions with the PRC (People’s Republic of China).”

The Taiwan Labour Front is among the over 20 non- government groups that formed an alliance in July to boost civic participation and government transparency in the negotiation of pacts between Taiwan and China.

Indeed, the first major operation of the Cross-strait Agreement Monitoring Alliance (CSAMA) was to conduct a ‘citizen review’ of the ECFA, which was signed Jun. 29 by Taipei’s semi-official Strait Exchange Foundation (SEF) chairman Chiang Ping-kun and Beijing’s counterpart, Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) chairman Chen Yunlin, in Chongqing, China.

Despite the far-reaching nature of the free trade pact on Taiwan society, the ruling Kuomintang, which holds 74 of the legislature’s 112 seats compared to the opposition Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) 33, overrode calls for a thorough review of ECFA.

Instead, the KMT used its legislative majority to immediately refer the pact and accompanying legal revisions to a second reading, thus excluding the possibility of public hearings on the agreement.

“The Ma government’s handling of the process of consideration, negotiation and review of the ECFA fell far short of the requirements for full transparency and did not match the minimum requirements of a democratic system,” says alliance spokesman Lai Chung-chiang in an interview.

Nevertheless, the civic alliance organised a section-by- section review of the pact by civic groups and experts. It then submitted its findings to the legislative caucuses of the Kuomintang, the DPP and the non-partisan alliance, whose five lawmakers generally back the Kuomintang, and the public.

In a report released Aug. 11, the alliance raised a long list of issues with the ECFA.

Among other things, it called for the elimination of an article in the ECFA that authorised the organisation of a bilateral “joint cross-strait economic cooperation commission” and granted the commission the power to negotiate follow-on agreements that would not require legislative review or approval.

The alliance opposed the clause on the grounds that the arrangement would transfer government authority beyond the scope of legal accountability to Taiwan’s laws or citizen monitoring.

A statute for the handling of cross-strait relations with China had actually been promulgated in 1992 and revised in 2002. But Academia Sinica Institute for Legal Studies Associate Research Prof Max Huang Kuo-chang says the statute mandated the SEF only to negotiate “pragmatic” or “technical” issues with ARATS.

“The cross-strait statute did not foresee that the SEF would be negotiating major treaties or to be ‘delegated’ powers of government on a permanent basis,” he says.

The civic alliance report also called on Taiwan negotiators to propose new clauses in ECFA to ensure that the pact’s implementation would not undermine human rights, environmental protection, labour rights, and gender equality standards.

Corporate Social Responsibility Taiwan secretary-general Tseng Chao-ming said such clauses had already been incorporated into the preambles or as distinct clauses in previous free trade agreements signed by China, but have not been included in any of the cross-strait agreements so far.

The alliance has now trained its sights on the signing of the SEF and ARATS pact in December.

Says the alliance’s Lai: “These pacts should incorporate robust human rights guarantees including assurances for personal freedom and work rights in the investment guarantee agreement and clauses to ensure human rights protections in issues such as human participation in experimentation for new medicines.”

Lai warns that Beijing’s recent push for negotiations on the question of the withdrawal of over 1,600 missiles that the Chinese military has deployed opposite Taiwan indicates that cross-strait relations are entering an “even more complex period in which extremely sensitive issues such as military confidence-building measures or a highly political ‘peace agreement’ will be negotiated”.

He remarks, “Taiwan must have a legally mandated, democratic monitoring and review system with a high degree of democratic accountability and transparency in place before talks on such political issues begin.”

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