Cross-strait oversight bill calls for long-term planning
One year after the student-led Sunflower Movement asked for a cross-strait agreement supervisory bill, all versions of the bill remain unreviewed and stalled in the Legislative Yuan.
Both major party caucuses predict that approving any version in the current climate is highly unlikely. With election day a year away, uncertainty hangs over lawmakers, who are aware of how hot a potato the monitoring bill could become.
For lawmakers, a key concern is that the bills grant policyforming authority to different bodies — namely the Legislative Yuan or the Executive Yuan — and that constituents may not be ready to decide which to empower until they know which party controls what after election day.
Instead of this approach, what the drafting of a bill should be about is establishing a useable mechanism for handling agreements in the cross-strait relationship over the long term.
As of today, there are nine versions of the bill. There is a draft authored by the Executive Yuan, by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the Taiwan Solidarity Union, individual lawmakers and, notably, DPP Legislator Yu Mei-nu ( ), who has endorsed a bill presented by the Sunflower Movement.
The Cabinet’s oversight bill lets the Executive Yuan take the lead in pact formation, though the Legislative Yuan has the right of final decision. The Executive Yuan is required to report on the negotiation process to the Legislative Yuan at four stages. This is a process of reporting, not collaboration.
Later, any negotiated pact needs to be approved by the National Security Council, which considers its impact on international relations, cross-strait relations, national security, employment and industries. This national security review panel, which includes industry representatives, can veto the pact.
So can the Legislative Yuan. If the pact requires legal revisions, it is sent to the Legislative Yuan “for review” ( ) and must be approved by vote. If no legal amendments are required, it is submitted “for reference” ( ) and is read aloud but not voted on. However, lawmakers can — by vote — choose to convert the case into a voted review. In short, lawmakers can suspend a cross-strait pact or reject it altogether, though they have a limited role in the negotiation process.
In contrast, the Yu Mei-nu bill strengthens and activates the Legislative Yuan during the negotiation of the pact:
The Legislature would have the power to set goals and terms, to debate and form negotiation strategies and to reopen talks to alter terms after the pact is signed.
These are strong brakes on the process, but in practice they will create significant problems. The reality of international negotiations is that publicly debating and revealing the bottom line while talks are underway will harm the national interest. Moreover, altering terms after a deal is signed means the deal is off and all signatories must return to the negotiating table.
Among supporters of the other monitoring bills, the Cabinet bill arouses strong skepticism that is a reflection of skepticism toward the Kuomintang, but a more productive examination of the bill looks at its braking mechanisms without accounting for which party leads the Executive Yuan.
Viewed in this light, the Cabinet bill strikes a roughly appropriate balance of power. Its monitoring controls for the Legislature are concrete — not the most robust among the nine bills but sufficient — and can be used regularly without generating information leaks or other harm to national interests while the Executive Yuan leads the negotiation process.
In the end, choosing a bill can be greatly simplified if lawmakers aim to create supervision that works over the long term, as parties rise and fall from power.
If the monitoring bills come to nothing, as seems likely, everyone will lose. Taiwan needs a monitoring framework, if not to handle the controversial trade-in-services agreement then to deal with other negotiations that will inevitably come to bear on the cross-strait relationship.