Wed, Sep 13, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Fostering economic ties with UK

By Ian Inkster

At a time when Britain floats away from many of its earlier European commercial arrangements and when the Taiwanese government still adheres to its determination to loosen foreign commercial relations with China, the past few weeks have seen interesting developments in UK-Taiwan economic relations.

Meeting with a British parliamentary delegation on Aug. 3 in Taipei, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) voiced Taiwan’s willingness to increase cooperation with the UK, calling for a free-trade agreement or bilateral investment agreement between the two economies.

She went on to emphasize recent exchanges between the two nations that addressed issues such as industrial development and city government.

The clear hope was to give the British policymakers some understanding of Taiwan’s current political and economic developments, particularly the “five plus two” innovative industries initiative, the complexity of diplomatic relations and cross-strait relations.

We can usefully see this as an umbrella under which other wide-ranging initiatives might be sheltered. We might mention the Aug. 1 to Aug. 10 visit to the UK of a delegation led by Changhua County Commissioner Wei Ming-ku (魏明谷), which did not narrow down its visits just to the great cultural capitals, but ranged between London and Edinburgh and Manchester, Barrow-in-Furness and Grimsby, and included in its work possible joint or cooperative studies of sustainable housing development, bank funding of green projects, offshore wind energy, low-carbon cities and high-level energy research.

As another indicator in recent weeks we might mention the extension on Aug. 1 of the Taipei Representative Office in the UK’s memorandum of understanding with the Taiwan studies program at the University of Nottingham, which will allow that program under its director — Chun-Yi Lee (李駿怡) — to continue working closely with affiliated programs across Europe in creating a dynamic platform for academics and students who are interested in Taiwan.

It was precisely that London-based office that had arranged the visit to Taiwan of the delegation that met Tsai on Aug. 3.

In the present conditions of the global economy, do such positive steps have a high probability of increasing the actual commercial relations between Britain and Taiwan along a broad front?

This is itself a reasonable query. The skepticism mounts when we look a little more broadly.

Britain is fishing for both substantial and nominal alternatives to the European Economic Community membership in this long, clumsily drawn-out period in which the Brexit melodrama is dominant in domestic policies, probably as prominent as Taiwan-China relations in Taiwanese politics.

This might well be the real limiting factor in even mid-term relations and almost certainly in short-term ones.

The nature of the commercial economy in Britain is very difficult to formulate for these few years, and it is probable that a noisy flux of proposals will be forthcoming from the Tories to both appease the Brexiters and stop the flow of supportive interest that has been directed at the Labor Party since leader Jeremy Corbyn’s clever election manifesto.

Bank of England figures show that wage growth is not keeping up with inflation, spelling some fall in real incomes and a near future of a fall in consumption and some rise in interest rates.

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