Taiwan is now all set to leap over the last hurdle to normalize its economic relations with Mainland China. Negotiations will get under way shortly between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait to sign a comprehensive economic cooperation arrangement (CECA), for which Chinese President Hu Jintao promised support in a New Year message on Wednesday.
Talks will take a very long time, of course. There are differences to be ironed out before a CECA can be inked. For instance, Taipei insists the arrangement be called an agreement, which it wants to smack of a “treaty” between two independent, sovereign states. A fair and mutually satisfactory trade and investment framework isn’t easy to establish across the strait, too. But now matter how long it may take, Taiwan has to reach agreement with Mainland China to get the CECA signed so that Taipei may be better able to cope with the impending economic crisis which threatens to hurtle the island into a Great Depression.
There shouldn’t be any politically correct opposition to the CECA. Is there any difference between an “arrangement” and a “treaty” or an “agreement”? After all, it’s just a contract between two parties to regulate their economic relations. As a matter of fact, it can even be titled a contract, if it serves the practical purposes of both sides. There should be no decrying against the CECA selling out Taiwan as a province of the People’s Republic, either. The dignity and sovereignty of the Republic of China on Taiwan isn’t belittled a bit. Don’t call normalization of cross-strait economic relations a return of Taiwan to China’s sovereignty. The fact is that it isn’t.
It actually paves the way for Taiwan to join an emerging Asian free trade zone. The People’s Republic is taking the lead to usher in what is known as a Ten-plus-One area of free trade. The Ten are those members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The One is Mainland China. Taiwan wants to sign free trade agreements (FTAs) with ASEAN states lest it should be marginalized in the vast regional economy. It has tried in vain. No ASEAN states dare sign FTAs with Taiwan to risk Mainland China’s ire. Remember negotiations were almost completed between Taiwan and Singapore for an FTA in fact but not in name? Singapore, however, had to refuse to sign at the last minute, simply because of Taiwan’s insistence on the politically correct name on which Beijing frowned. Without participation in the regional free trade zone, the Taiwan economy, whose mainstay is foreign trade, cannot survive the merciless onslaught of economic globalization.
Like it or not, normalization of economic relations alone can help Taiwan under the existing circumstances to survive as a viable economy. The government may have to brush aside any politically correct opposition to get the CECA signed at the earliest possible date.
（本文刊載於98. 02.16 China Post第4版，本文代表作者個人意見）