Wed, Oct 05, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan is giving up its gains at the WTO

By Lin Cho-shui 林濁水

The other day, I had the opportunity to speak with Taiwan's representative to the EU, Chen Chien-jen (程建人), about the downgrading of titles for officials from Taiwan in WTO documents.

China has two objectives regarding Taiwan and the WTO: to undermine Taiwan's sovereignty and to force Taiwan to accept a status equivalent to Chinese territories such as Hong Kong and Macao.

In 1992, under the government of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), muddle-headed officials came to an understanding with the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) -- the precursor to the WTO -- to enter the organization as a "separate customs territory" with the same standing as Hong Kong and Macao. When this concession came to the notice of the new Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government, they went all out to remedy the situation at once.

Working through the WTO, representatives of allied governments and Taiwan's representatives overseas, the government managed to come to an arrangement that constituted a victory for Taiwan: While member nations endorsed the various details of the WTO agreement, representing a consensus, there was no consensus on Taiwan's status, and this was simply added to the record unilaterally by the chairman.

Who would have thought that our first representative to the WTO, Yen Ching-chang (顏慶章), would bow to Chinese pressure and bring back a report by WTO Secretary General Supachai Panitchpakdi, drawn up in the spirit of the Hong Kong and Macao model. The report named five demands, including a change to the "diplomatic titles" used by Taiwan's WTO officials. Yen then sought to lobby the government, the legislature and the media to meet these demands.

I was one of the people who was lobbied. Yen put forward various documents to support his argument, including the agreement over Taiwan's WTO entry, indicating that this proved that Taiwan had agreed to accept the "custom's territory" status. But as shown above, this was not in fact the case.

Yen failed in his mission to lobby for Chinese interests, and the government returned to its strategies of 2001, mobilizing all its resources and support, forcing Supachai to back down in his demands. This was another victory for Taiwan.

Despite these two victories, why is it that we have now been utterly defeated? I took the opportunity to ask Chen what diplomatic strategies would be adopted in the face of this challenge. He was silent at first, and then avoided answering the question. I was insistent, wanting to know what kind of support he was getting in Geneva. Clearly he felt the battle had been lost even before it had begun, the commander-in-chief having given up the fight.

His silence was full of sorrow. The past battles had been won with great effort, including his own, but now, under a new commander-in-chief, defeat had already been accepted before the troops could take to the field. Everything that had been gained was now being handed over to China.

And the tragedy doesn't end here. Even though Yen failed to fight off Chinese pressure, on his return he was still given the Order of the Brilliant Star, and then was handed the chairmanship of Fuhwa Financial Holdings -- in total violation of public service regulations, as Yen had formerly served as a minister of finance.

In Taiwan, defeated generals are not relegated to obscurity, but are given awards. What kind of standard does this set? Surely there is no hope for such a country.

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