China Power

Ma’s ECFA Poll Boost?

Taiwan’s President Ma suggested a major trade deal with China would be popular. He isn’t.

I wrote a few weeks back about my concerns over the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement signed last month between China and Taiwan, a deal that I argued despite some supporters’ protestations had clear political undertones. I said that if Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou wants to take his people down the road of closer economic integration then he should, as China has been, be upfront about what this could mean politically further down the line.

In response to my op-ed I received a friendly email from a diplomat at a Taipei Economic & Cultural Officein Asia (essentially a Taiwanese embassy) thanking me for raising these issues, but also ‘filling me in’ on some more of the background. I appreciated him doing so, and for balance will mention some of the detailed points that he raised.

He told me that (paraphrased here):

1) In a Trade Policy Review released on July 5, the World Trade Organization touted the trade pact with Beijing as “vital” to Taiwan's competitiveness as it could help Taiwan further integrate into the global economy. He also noted that WTO Director General Pascal Lamy said in an interview that with continued improvement in cross-strait ties, Taiwan will be able to attract more foreign investment and sharpen its competitiveness.

2) Ma stressed the economic pact will mainly focus on tariff reductions and exemptions as well as on legal protection of investments and intellectual property rights. He said transparent and institutionalized economic agreements between Taiwan and China will actually promote a more normal cross-strait relationship, thus easing the potential for military confrontations and unnecessary misunderstandings.

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3) The signing of the ECFA received majority support from the public in Taiwan. The Mainland Affairs Council announced the results of its latest public opinion survey on May 7, and these showed as much as 69 percent of the public believed that institutionalized cross-strait negotiations are conducive to peace and stability in cross-strait relations.

It’s that last point I’m interested in, and whether this ‘popular’ pact has led to a boost in Ma’s fortunes. And, according to an Asia Sentinel piece last week, it has indeed been a significant boost. Citing a new poll, the article states that Ma’s ratings have rebounded from lows of 24 percent in March and April to 46.8 percent in this latest survey.

But hang on a minute. What the article doesn’t mention is that the organization that conducted the poll, the Research, Development, and Evaluation Commission, is a Cabinet-level government body that is also responsible for policy planning and the circulation of government publications.

A more believable poll (or at least by that I mean one more consistent with other polling in recent months) was released this week by the Global Views Survey Research Center. This found that although Ma’s approval rating had topped 30 percent for the first time in a year, 56 percent of respondents said they were dissatisfied.

Such lowly numbers presumably won’t be helped by reports last week indicating that despite Ma’s claims that the economic deal will encourage warmer ties, China’s military build-up directed at the island continues unabated.

According to Taiwan News:

‘The number of Chinese missiles targeted at Taiwan will approach 2,000 by year end…the Chinese-language Liberty Times daily quoted a military report as saying Sunday.

‘The analysis of China’s attack capabilities also found that if Beijing actually decided to launch the missiles this year, 90 percent of targets in Taiwan would be destroyed, the paper said.’

A smiling China may be happily shaking Taiwan with its right hand. But it’s that left hand Taiwan needs to keep an eye on too.