Tue, May 27, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Beijing plays the bully at the WTO

It's only been one-and-a-half years since Taiwan and China joined the WTO. For China, however, this seems to have been an unbearably long eon, for it is already working hard to demolish the agreed conditions under which the two sides joined the organization by mounting an assault on Taiwan's status in the WTO.

China has pressured WTO Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi to change the name of Taiwan's WTO mission to an "office," to add a caveat in all official documents indicating that the mission does not represent a sovereign state and to downgrade the diplomatic protocol for Taiwanese officials at the organization.

This nation already endured inappropriate treatment in the process of joining the WTO because of the China factor. The fact that Taiwan joined the trade body as the "Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu" was a demeaning arrangement to begin with. But knowing substance is more important than names, Taiwan accepted the arrangement. Even though the government completed the negotiations necessary for WTO entry much earlier than China, this nation's entry was delayed for several years due to a tacit agreement that Taiwan should join at the same time as China.

China's flouting of WTO agreements, its attempt to pressure the WTO secretariat and change the status of a member, is a violation of international law and precedent. The government must protest strongly against such an action. The WTO secretariat should not be yielding to political pressure or taking unilateral action that harms the interests of a member state. People in this country and around the world should clearly recognize China's flagrant flouting of international conventions as well as its thuggish behavior. If Beijing can succeed in flouting the agreements on WTO entry, how can it maintain credibility for the international treaties it has signed or business agreements with other countries?

China has offered to donate medical supplies to Taiwan to help it fight the SARS epidemic and launched a massive propaganda drive in its media trumpeting its love for "Taiwan compatriots." Had the government accepted such donations -- meager as they were -- China would have created the impression that it had Taiwan's health-care needs well in hand. Fortunately, the Straits Exchange Foundation rejected the offer and stopped China's scheme cold.

After China's behavior in blocking this nation's bid for WHO observership, some pan-blue legislators asked for negotiations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. But now, with Beijing trying to press Taiwan to the wall at the WTO, can we still harbor any illusion about Beijing's intentions?

Apparently Beijing has not appreciated Taiwan's willingness to settle for WTO membership as something other than a sovereign state. If the result is going to be the same no matter how many concessions the government is willing to make, then it might as well seek WHO membership as a sovereign state. Even if it loses such a bid, Taiwan should continue to promote its status as a sovereign state in the international community.

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