Sat, Mar 23, 2002 - Page 17 News List

Yen Ching-chang says China can't be forced to talk

REUTERS , TAIPEI

Former champion long-distance runner and now Taiwan's first WTO representative Yen Ching-chang (顏慶章) knows the value of mental toughness and patience, two qualities that will serve him well when he deals with his Chinese counterpart.

Still standing trim at 53, Yen said he was eager to talk with China about any trade or non-trade issue, but the Chinese must first be willing.

"We are willing to talk about any issue with China," Yen said yesterday, "but we can't force them to talk."

While China has recently indicated a softer line towards Taiwan, it still insists acceptance of the "one China" concept is a prerequisite before any direct talks can go ahead, even under the WTO.

"I am very proud to represent Taiwan at the WTO, where we have equal footing with the international community. And, not even China can protest," said Yen, who has already paid courtesy calls to representatives of eight major countries, including major trading partners the US and Japan.

Yen headed the Ministry of Finance for 16 months before taking up his present post and presided over extensive financial reforms aimed at rescuing a bloated and uncompetitive banking industry.

Issues such as the nation's continued ban on imports of many Chinese agricultural products -- especially feed grains -- could spark a trade dispute, bringing the two sides of the Strait into talks in Geneva.

The government has said further openings are a priority, but has not provided any timetable.

"If China feels that we have set unfair import restrictions on their products, they can raise the issue to the WTO, and vice versa," Yen said.

In addition, Yen said Taiwan was still studying possible countermeasures to the US decision to raise steel tariffs that has raised a global storm of protest.

Yen became the nation's WTO representative last month.

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