Tuesday, 15 April 2014

In Precisely What Does The CSSTA's Clear And Demonstrable National Security Threat Consist?

The more complaints I read about the CSSTA, the more I find myself concerned (a) not that it should be defeated, but that its' opponents should be defeated, but also (b) that there may be something within the CSSTA that I am missing.

On the opposition to the CSSTA, I have noticed a tendency to conflate fears of Chinese competition and losses for smaller Taiwanese businesses with threats to Taiwan's national security, rather than to discuss these two issues separately. Consider this report in the Taipei Times last year for instance (misleadingly headlined "Pact is a national security threat..." it is actually all about fears of business and job losses). Of the two issues, it is the fears of market competition that seem to have garnered more attention in the press. This makes me suspect either that there is little in the CSSTA in the way of a direct national security threat, or that if there is, it is highly uncertain and difficult to clearly demonstrate. Certainly, I have not yet come across such a clearly demonstrated threat.

The importance of distinguishing national security issues from fears of market competition is that they would have different kinds of consequences. The obvious national security threat would be to online freedom of speech either through ISPs or through self-censorship in media companies with substantial Chinese investment. Freedom of speech is a basic right requisite to any free society, and its infringement must not be tolerated.

However, fears of market competition and possible business and job losses arise not from any threat against basic rights, but from fear of other people's choices. Where Taiwanese suppliers must compete with Chinese counterparts offering the same (or even lower quality) services at a 10% or 20% discount in price, the fear is that other Taiwanese people will choose the Chinese supplier. Nobody can have a right to have their services purchased or a right to a job, because that implies that other people have an obligation to pay that person irrespective of whether they want to or not.

Thus the insistence that the CSSTA be revoked on these grounds is nothing less than a claim to reverse the logic of market capitalism: rather than serving consumers, certain Taiwanese business owners would rather the consumers serve them by having the government restrictions on their market choices continue.

As I said, I could be wrong: it may be that there is some genuine and clear threat to "national security" buried in the details of the CSSTA (or what I really mean: people's basic rights viz freedom of speech, freedom of association and other anti-coercion rights). Readers may feel free to inform me otherwise in the comments...


  1. Mike, I think you're totally right. I hear hardly any complaints about the threats to our freedoms inherent in the CSSTA and yet from my perspective it's the most obvious and most threatening part of it. I guess people just don't get it, and if they don't care about their own rights why should anyone else? I have not gotten involved in the recent protests and neither do I plan to when people have got the cart before the horse in terms of what they seem to be protesting.

  2. Cheers Steve. I think the other thing may be that a lot of people lack the knowledge to distinguish rights from wants, so that they believe in a "right to a job", or a "right to healthcare" and then accord these "rights" a status equal or similar to the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

    If the occupation of the Legislative Yuan had explicitly aimed for better protection of private property rights, made salient by those who've recently had their land and houses stolen from them by the local governments in Taipei, Miaoli and Tainan in particular, then I would have considered joining them.


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