After putting down Taiwan's bid to gain observer status in the WHO earlier this month, Beijing has gone on to pressure the WTO Secretariat in an attempt to downgrade Taiwan's status in the trade body -- to the same level as the Chinese territory of Hong Kong.
The news prompted all political parties in Taiwan to unanimously condemn China's thuggish behavior. Such unanimity is unprecedented in the DPP's three years in power. Perhaps it is also a surprise for Beijing, which has always tried to cajole Taiwan's opposition parties into accepting "one China." For example, the PFP, which has always been friendly with Beijing and has always echoed "one China," has condemned China's behavior via its legislative caucus. Beijing has caused the two sides of the Strait to drift further apart and seriously hurt the feelings of the Taiwanese people, the caucus said in a statement.
As this newspaper made clear in this column yesterday, China's behavior runs counter to international law. On a technical level, Taiwan joined the WTO under the name "Permanent Mission of the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu" (TPKM). Hong Kong and Macau, meanwhile, joined as a "separate customs territory of China."
Taiwan's status is based on Article 33 of the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade (GATT), while that of Hong Kong and Macau is based on Article 26. In other words, Taiwan has a completely different status than Hong Kong and Macau. Besides, the GATT reached a consensus in 1992 that Taiwan would join the trade body under the name TPKM, not as a customs territory of China.
Everyone knows that the WTO is an economic organization set up for the purpose of promoting free trade. It is not a political organization. China has tried to assert its sovereignty claim over Taiwan by creating a political conflict in a non-political organization. But such behavior will not only appear absurd in the eyes of other members, but will also trigger more disgust among the Taiwanese public. The opposition parties, which have long harbored illusions about the Beijing leadership, are now under enormous pressure from public opinion and have no choice other than to join in the condemnation.
So far more than 30 countries have been affected by the SARS epidemic, to which China has contributed by its attempts at a cover-up in the early phases. Up to yesterday, 76 people have died in Taiwan. And the outbreak in Taiwan might not have peaked yet. But China continues to ignore public sentiment in Taiwan and carries on with its political suppression. This is completely unacceptable to the people of Taiwan. We agree with TSU Chairman Huang Chu-wen (黃主文), who stressed that excluding issues such as the name of the nation and the national anthem from a future referendum law will be tantamount to the people of Taiwan giving up their sovereignty as well as their future generations' claim to sovereignty. If we limit the scope of the referendum law to economic issues, then we will be yielding to China's ambitions to make Taiwan a local government.
If the opposition parties are sincere about defending Taiwan's interests, then they should do more than grandstanding. They should take unanimous action alongside the ruling party on the referendum issue by allowing the people of Taiwan to determine their future through a democratic procedure. Only through a referendum can the people of Taiwan persuade the international community that they are a political entity independent from China. Only then can they highlight the fact that Beijing's claims have no support whatsoever from the Taiwanese public.