The Sunflower Movement, a mix of student and civic groups that began occupying Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan, similar to the U.S. Congress, on March 18, began as a reaction to the Cross-Straight Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA). This was a follow-on agreement from the ECFA agreement implemented previously between Taiwan and China. This ECFA agreement has not brought the kind of economic benefits that the government claimed, making the Taiwanese public doubtful about claims that the Service Trade Agreement was a benefit.
The Services Trade Agreement was negotiated with China in secret, with the government announcing broad claims that the Agreement would be beneficial to Taiwan. The pros and cons of the Agreement won’t be discussed here, but instead focus on the ruling party’s steering of the Agreement towards approval and enactment.
The governing party agreed to hold public meetings and town halls regarding the Agreement. What actually happened was these so-called “public” hearings were held unannounced, or announced privately to a few key supporters, and even held late at night, far after working hours. The meetings were also held in buildings where there was no public access so even though the meeting was "public" the public had no access. In the few meetings where groups concerned with the impact of the Agreement were able to attend, the chair of the meeting promised to allow people to voice their opinions; instead the police were called in and forcibly removed anyone with a dissenting opinion. In fact the town halls were not a way to hear public opinion at all, but simply a sales pitch for a deal the ruling party considered already done.
The public expressed their discontent and Taiwan Indicators Survey Research released the results of an opinion poll showing that 73.7 percent of respondents said that the legislature should review and vote on each clause of the pact, with 68.1 percent of the ruling party supporters also in favor of the review. With backlash by both the public and the opposition party mounting, the majority party agreed to a line-by-line review in committee. That did not happen as well documented now; the committee head snuck out of the committee meeting room, hid near the toilet, and announced via wireless microphone, before the meeting even started, that the review was over and the agreement was passed from the committee. This means the agreement was to be sent directly for a vote in the Legislature.
There were many ruling party Legislators who were not supportive of the Agreement, however the party leaders threatened any Legislators who did not vote in favor of the Agreement that they would be kicked out of the party. To drive this home, the ruling party announced last month that it would suspend the party duties and privileges of Legislator Apollo Chen (陳學聖) for one year following his dissenting vote on an amendment to a law in January, in order to intimidate other legislators not to dissent. This turns Legislators from representing the people in their district into representatives of the party only, a terrible twisting of what democracy should be. So the claim that the government is now making that the Legislature can still debate the agreement is disingenuous, as the President is saying the agreement cannot be changed; he knows that with a majority, as soon as the agreement hits the chamber, it will be passed. This is why the students and civic groups started the occupation when they did.
The ruling party is also claiming that the Agreement cannot be sent back, that it’s a done deal, and that no country’s Legislature would dare to send back an agreement as that would hurt the country in future negotiations. This claim is simply not born out in reality. The ruling party continues to tout South Korea as a model signer of FTAs and as Taiwan`s top competitor, however they have neglected to mention that Seoul and Washington D.C. both rejected the first signed FTA between themselves and renegotiated the pact for five years. The decision by S. Korea’s National Assembly to reject the initial version has not appeared to deal a fatal blow to their credibility in international trade relations either, as the Taiwan President threatened refusing this Agreement would to Taiwan. After all the President even stated that S. Korea had just signed a new FTA with Canada recently.
In fact, S. Korea has a very robust law on handling international commercial negotiations, including 180-day advance notice to the National Assembly, and a provision that the National Assembly have 90-days in advance of negotiations to complete a comprehensive impact evaluation; the National Assembly has oversight during negotiations, and line by line review and ratification (or rejection) afterward with public hearings and public participation. Taiwan currently has no law which governs the process of negotiating international agreements and civil society organizations have pushed for nearly two decades for a law to set up feasible and transparent policies for treaties with other countries.
Claims that this Agreement or other agreements with China are required as a prerequisite to other FTA's is simply false. Members of the U.S. Congress want to move forward with agreements regardless of Taiwan-China trade agreements (see recent interviews with both Rep. Ed Royce and Sen. Sherrod Brown below). In fact the New Zealand trade agreement was started 7 years ago and again was not dependent, having been already signed and implemented.
If the Cross-Straight Services Trade Agreement is the boon for Taiwan that they ruling party and supporters claim, they should be anxious for a line-by-line review to show what a great agreement they negotiated. Instead, the games they played and the avoidance of scrutiny continue to make their claims about the agreement very dubious, and the Sunflower Movement demands to reject the Agreement and implement new policy over Taiwan-China relations all the more reasonable.
What you can do to help
If you live in the U.S., go to the ACT Action page and take three minutes to tell your member of Congress to support current Taiwan related legislation. There are several bills, all deserve your attention. Once you have filled out the form, please make sure to check your email to confirm your messages.
Go here for a Write Congress Tutorial, available in both English and Chinese.
Interviews with Rep. Ed Royce and Sen. Sherrod Brown regarding the Sunflower Movement and trade agreements with the US.
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