| 28 May 2024, Tuesday |

Taiwan questions China’s suitability for Pacific trade pact, fears ‘obstruction’

China’s restrictive actions pose serious obstacles to its application to join a major pan-Pacific free trade agreement, and if it does so before Taiwan, it risks blocking their application, according to the island’s finance minister.

Both Taiwan and China filed to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) last month, but China has stated that Taiwan, which it claims as its own territory, will not be admitted.

In an interview with Reuters late Thursday, Taiwan Economy Minister Wang Mei-hua said, “If China enters first, there is undoubtedly a chance of them impeding Taiwan.” “Taiwan opposes joining anything.”

Regardless of Taiwan’s claim to independence, China claims the right to represent the island’s 23.5 million inhabitants in international bodies.

She said that Beijing has a number of difficulties, ranging from internet censorship to labor rights, that raise questions about whether it can meet the CPTPP’s high standards, which are designed to “test China’s core fundamental systems.”

“If China can modify them, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to change this system and then join (the trade pact). However, if this system is not modified, how can they participate in CPTPP? This is a problem I don’t fully comprehend “she continued.

“Look at their information – nothing can enter. Facebook can’t enter, Google can’t enter,” Wang said, referring to China’s blocking of both major sites, which it does to a slew of Western internet firms including Twitter, all in the name of national security.

The original 12-member agreement, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), was seen as an important economic counterweight to China’s growing influence.

But the TPP was thrown into limbo in early 2017 when then-U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States.

The grouping, which was renamed the CPTPP, links Canada, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

Taiwan, a major semiconductor producer, has applied to join under the name it uses in the World Trade Organization (WTO) – the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu. Taiwan is also a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation grouping.

Wang said Taiwan was not aware of any CPTPP member objecting to their application, in contrast to the disquiet expressed by Japan in particular about China’s bid.

“At the very least after we submitted the written application, we’ve not heard that any member opposes, not like after China applied, when some countries brought it up.”

Taiwan has been angling for free trade deals with other countries, especially other democracies. Wang said if it joined, it would not need to seek a separate agreement with Australia, or fellow CPTPP applicant Britain.

While talks to enter the WTO went on for more than a decade, Wang said she did not think it would take that long for the CPTPP, but added it was hard to give a timetable.

“I think if the political obstacles can be reduced as much as possible, I don’t believe talks will go on for decades.”

  • Reuters