However, Taiwan’s biggest obstacle in joining the RCEP does not come from ASEAN, but rather from Beijing. How to join the RCEP with equal membership but without triggering China’s sensitive nerves poses a critical challenge for the Taiwanese government.
Since Beijing’s insistence on the “one China” policy has been the fundamental reason that Taiwan has been rejected from ASEAN activities, it may be worth noting whether China’s new leadership will cultivate innovative thinking in handling this issue differently, considering current political reconciliation between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. One checking point may be whether Beijing will allow Hong Kong to join the RCEP, which may provide clues for Taipei to decipher.
Without overexaggerating “China factors” on Taiwan’s external economic engagements, it is axiomatic that Taiwan’s strategy to join the RCEP may rely on the pillars of its earnest interests and proactive involvement in ASEAN affairs as well as its irreplaceable relevance in East Asian production chains. Now, the door to joining the RCEP may be half open for Taiwan.
Whether Taiwan can seize this opportunity and make itself a valuable FTA partner hinges largely on the prudence of decisionmakers in Taipei. Paying keen attention to this week’s ASEAN Plus Six Summit will be a good starting point for contemplating Taiwan’s strategy to join the RCEP.
Eric Chiou is an associate research fellow at the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research.