Many points in Julia Famularo and Terri Giles’ April 1 essay “Double Down On Taiwan” are clearly beneficial for Taiwan and in fact are top priorities of President Ma Ying-jeou’s administration, including the promotion of regional peace and stability, strengthening the U.S.-Taiwan economic and security partnership, seeking meaningful participation in international organizations, and continuing the promotion of democracy, human rights, and media freedom in Taiwan.
Unfortunately, there are issues with several statements made in the “Preserve Democracy, Human Rights, and Media Freedom in Taiwan” section of this essay.
Of particular note is the assertion that “Taiwan is being pressured into backtracking on civil rights and liberties.” According to Freedom House’s 2014 Freedom of the World Report (also cited in Famularo and Giles’ essay), Taiwan “remained one of the best performers in Asia in 2013, as its civil society gained additional ground in influencing political debate and government policy.” Taiwan’s legislature has a deserved reputation for lively debate, but less known is the fact that its citizens are some of the most tuned-in and passionate of any democracy around the world. Protests such as the “Sunflower” movement and the “Anti-Media Monopoly Movement” are not signs of a backtracking democracy; in fact, an engaged and motivated civil society has helped Taiwan forge one of the most robust democracies in the world.
Contrary to certain claims concerning the Cross-Strait Trade in Service Agreement (TiSA), relevant government agencies have jointly organized over 110 forums with relevant industries and business leaders, and the Legislative Yuan has held 20 public hearings. The government has also budgeted US$3.2 billion to help affected business sectors stay competitive.
As for the accusation that the administration “has refused to cede ground,” President Ma has in fact agreed to meet with representatives of the protesters so long as there are no preconditions. In response to calls for a more open and transparent procedure, a draft bill for closer monitoring of agreements between Taiwan and mainland China was approved at a Cabinet meeting on April 3. Far from turning a deaf ear and a blind eye, the Executive Yuan is doing what it can within the bounds of the executive branch. Unfortunately, without a home for three weeks because of the protesters’ occupation, the democratically-elected representatives of the Legislative Yuan cannot voice and consider the concerns some citizens have about the trade agreement until they can return to the chamber in which these debates are held.
It is important to remember that the TiSA follows the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) that was signed in 2010. The TiSA itself was signed and sent to the legislative branch on June 21, 2013, where it has sat idle ever since. Claims that this trade agreement has somehow blindsided lawmakers is neither true nor constructive. The truth is that the TiSA is the next step on Taiwan’s path to trade liberalization and regional economic integration, both of which are required to ensure Taiwan’s future economic competitiveness.
Thalia Lin serves as an Executive Officer in the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the U.S.