Political roadblock to Taiwan trade pact bid

There is a risk to Taiwan’s application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership if China joins first, the government said yesterday, flagging a potential political roadblock.

Taiwan formally applied to join on Wednesday, less than a week after China, the world’s second-largest economy.

Taiwan is excluded from many international bodies because of China’s insistence that it is part of “one-China” rather than a separate country.

Taiwan’s chief trade negotiator, John Deng, said that China always tries to obstruct Taiwan taking part internationally. “So if China joins first, Taiwan’s membership case should be quite risky. This is obvious,” he said.

Underscoring the pressure Taiwan faces from China, the island’s defense ministry reported 19 Chinese air force planes flew into Taiwan’s air defense zone yesterday, including two nuclear-capable H-4 bombers. Taiwan’s air force scrambled to intercept and warn them away.

Taiwan has been keen to win greater support from other democracies, including in its trading relations.

When asked about Taiwan’s application to the trade pact, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian reiterated a long-standing position that Taiwan is part of China. “We are firmly opposed to any country having official ties with Taiwan, and to Taiwan entering into any official treaty or organization,” Zhao said.

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

Deng said he was not able to predict when Taiwan may be allowed to join the Pacific pact, noting that Britain’s application was proceeding the fastest at present. Britain began negotiations in June.

The original 12-member agreement, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, was seen as an important economic counterweight to China’s growing influence. But the partnership was thrown into limbo in early 2017 when then-President Donald Trump withdrew the United States.

The grouping links Canada, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

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