At a meeting with campaign supporters on Wednesday, Kaohsiung Mayor and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) said that Taiwan was at risk of becoming “like North Korea” due to being locked out of international organizations.
Han’s comment appears to have been motivated by Taiwan’s exclusion from any free-trade agreement with ASEAN, despite the association having such agreements with six other non-ASEAN countries.
However, despite the lack of a Taiwan-ASEAN free-trade agreement, Taiwanese businesses have factories throughout Southeast Asia, and the government is engaged in numerous humanitarian aid programs in the region. Under the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), investment in South and Southeast Asia has been rising thanks to the New Southbound Policy.
Taiwan participates in over 170 international organizations, including the Olympic Games, Amnesty International, APEC and the WTO. In contrast, North Korea is party to roughly 60 international organizations.
However, to its credit, North Korea is a member of the UN. So perhaps becoming more “like North Korea” would not be so bad for Taiwan? All jokes aside, Taiwan actively seeks participation in international organizations, but is often obstructed by China. In contrast, North Korea isolates itself.
Since Taiwan’s exclusion from some organizations is externally imposed, it would be helpful for Han to offer specific proposals on how he would tackle the issue should he become president. His visit to Hong Kong and China in April, ostensibly to arrange an agricultural trade deal, as well as a Kaohsiung City Government official’s attempt to establish a ferry service to China, seem to suggest Han favors closer ties with China.
Since he has stated that he would not endorse China’s “one country, two systems” formula, how would he propose closer ties with China are arranged? Also, how would he guarantee national security, given the repeated threats of military force made toward Taiwan by Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), and Xi’s unwillingness to respect Hong Kong’s autonomy?
Taiwan is a country that foreign officials — regardless of a lack of official ties — feel comfortable visiting. Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, former Indian foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon and former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper visited Taiwan earlier this week to join National Day celebrations. Such visits would be very unlikely in North Korea.
As China increasingly finds itself at odds with countries like the US and Canada, Taiwan has found itself gaining more support from current and former officials in those countries. Canada knows firsthand about trade imbalances with China, which has suspended imports of canola seeds from Canada.
The move was seemingly in retaliation for the arrest and extradition to the US of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou (孟晚舟). Speaking at the Yushan Forum in Taipei on Tuesday, Harper indirectly criticized China as a country whose “trade strategy is about accumulating perpetual large surpluses with other countries,” an article published on Thursday in Canada’s The Globe and Mail said.
Han on Wednesday criticized Tsai for “not doing a good job and not making the people rich,” but at a time when other countries are beginning to question their relationship with China, Tsai’s pivot toward Southeast Asia and elsewhere to reduce economic dependency on China appears to be the right strategy.
If Han wants to be taken seriously as a presidential candidate he should start substantiating his criticism of the current president and offer real alternatives.
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