Following a week-long internal discussion and negotiation, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus announced that they planned to officially introduce the Cross-Strait Agreement Oversight Bill to the legislature on Monday, April 11. The draft bill was first unveiled on April 1, after DPP caucus members reached an initial agreement on the content of the bill that aims to monitor future cross-strait negotiations and agreements. The new bill, which will empower the legislature to intervene before, during and after any future cross-strait negotiations, is considered a major step forward for the implementation of the monitoring mechanism that was first introduced during the Sunflower Movement. The draft bill also omits a controversial clause that could have let cross-strait agreements come into effect automatically when the legislative review process stalls.

The DPP caucus whip Chien-Ming Ker said the mechanism will be the first of its kind in Taiwan’s legislative history. Based on the draft bill, the Executive Yuan and its branch will have to submit detailed negotiation plans before any cross-strait negotiations. After both sides reach an initial consensus, the bill requires the government to report again to the legislature before signing any deals. Talk can only be resumed with legislative consent. Additionally, the government also has to share outcomes of negotiations with the legislature after the talks. The legislature can halt negotiations if any problems emerge during the examining process.

The passing of the bill can mean a huge step forward for Taiwan’s young democracy. Several countries in the world, including the United States, all grant their congresses the right to monitor and counterbalance their executive branches. While the U.S. Congress authorizes the President to negotiate trade agreements with foreign countries, it still requires congressional consent before being signed into law. The approval from Congress plays an equally significant role as the President’s negotiation with foreign leaders. As for the case of Taiwan, once the Cross-Strait Agreement Oversight Bill is implemented, it can help to ensure the transparency of information related to cross-strait issues and avoid possible breach of Taiwan’s rights and sovereignty.

Prior to the Sunflower Movement, the old cross-strait oversight bill only required the executive branch to report cross-strait negotiations to the legislature for reviewing when it involved legal adjustment. However, the old bill did not specify the reviewing process, including the ways to determine whether negotiations pass or not. When negotiations did not involve legal adjustment, they would be considered as administrative orders and only needed to be filed to the legislature without further reviewing. While the draft bill proposed by DPP seems to have established a systematic reviewing criteria and process, it still fails to establish a well-grounded monitoring mechanism that meets all the requests from the Sunflower Movement. It does not clearly address how citizens and relevant industry professionals can join the reviewing process. It also only mentions the executive branch’s responsibility in adjusting the negotiation strategies based on feedback from the legislature, without detailing a process and controls . On top of that, the draft bill does not clearly state how Taiwan’s sovereignty will be protected in any negotiation process. All these points raise Taiwanese civil society’s concern over the draft bill’s effectiveness in ensuring a fair review of all future cross-strait negotiations. Even though the possibility of rushing cross-strait negotiations through the legislature seems lower, the draft bill still isn’t convincing enough to the general public. Perhaps what makes them doubt the draft bill is a perceived DPP’s lack of commitment to establishing a sustainable system that can safeguard Taiwan’s sovereignty, even in years to come.

With both the government and legislature firmly under DPP’s control, there is no real force that can effectively play the dissenting observer’s role when any cross-strait agreements are being examined in the legislature. Since opposition parties control only a bit over 30% of the seats in the legislature, any cross-strait agreements in the future could be easily pushed through without going through substantial examination. In other words, passing the proposed bill may perhaps indirectly help DPP to prevent an uprising against it, particularly from the new “third force” New Power Party.

Under an intensifying cross-strait relation, President-elect Tsai has to find the balance between defending Taiwan’s sovereignty and avoiding offending China in all future cross-strait negotiations. If she decides to set a moderate tone for her cross-strait agenda, she could face such an opposition, which may see her as compromising on the power of the bill and Taiwan’s existence as an independent country.

Regardless, the bill will be the first major move in cross-strait relations for President-elect Tsai and DPP, but it could also be the first big test for their cross-strait agenda. Ultimately, Taiwan’s future stake in the region will all come down to how she forms her cross-strait tactics and how the DPP-led legislature exercises its oversight power. The only thing that the Taiwanese civil society can perhaps do now is to uphold its faith in the government and the legislature while continuing to push them to fulfill their promises.

 

(Feature photo by Yu Ming Li)

 

William Yang

William is a freelance writer and photographer based in Taiwan, with a passion for human rights and storytelling. He holds a Master of Journalism degree from Temple University, and has extensive experiences interning at global NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Mercy Corps.