ECFA is one of the most important and most discussed issues in Taiwan today. It is also one of the least understood. ECFA (Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement) concerns the trading relationship between Taiwan and China. And that is about all I know about it. (This post will be a whiny exercise in frustration. You have been warned.)
No one really understands ECFA because (a) it is a highly technical matter with an enormously complex scope, and (b) the KMT government has chosen to withhold any details during the negotiation process. As a result, people have resorted to crude ideological schemes to try to figure out how they should feel about it. People who support the KMT, unification with China, the principal of free trade, or have interests in big corporations tend to be for ECFA, while people who support the DPP, Taiwan independence, are skeptical of free trade, and who work in lower income jobs tend to be against ECFA. Are these lines reasonable? I have no idea. Even if I knew the content, I doubt I would understand its impact.
Hopefully, some of this will become clear over the next month. President Ma has agreed to debate DPP chair Cai Yingwen at the end of the month, so maybe they will delve into substantive policy issues, and we will learn something about the potential impacts of various provisions. Maybe after this month of serious policy debate, it will be clear that certain sections have strong public support and that other provisions need revision. Maybe. But more likely, this will be a month of more ideological screaming designed to polarize and obscure. At any rate, the KMT has invested far too much to pull back. It will sign the pact, regardless of public opinion. (The KMT seems to have become fascinated with the Obama model: As soon as health care passed, Obama’s satisfaction ratings went up. Ma’s people seem to think the same thing will happen as soon as he signs ECFA. Or maybe as soon as the 2nd generation healthcare program passes.) What the debate might influence is the next round of negotiations with China. This round is supposed to be the easy stuff, the so-called “early harvest.” Depending on how popular it is, the next round will expand the scope significantly or only slightly.
(With only a token DPP presence in the legislature, public opinion is the only brake on a more aggressive integrationist policy. Last year, the legislature didn’t even hold fast on its demand that its consent – which was never in question – was necessary for treaties with China.)