At the top of President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) agenda the morning after her Jan. 11 election victory were meetings with American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director Brent Christensen and Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association Chairman Ohashi Mitsuo at the Presidential Office. That afternoon, she met with Japanese House of Representatives member Nobuo Kishi, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s younger brother, at the presidential residence.
By doing so, she made it clear that she would continue to meet with representatives of countries with similar values to Taiwan, and make a particular effort to bolster ties with the US and Japan to establish Taiwan as an indispensable partner in the Indo-Pacific strategy.
Unquestionably, the most important element of relations with the US and Japan is the signing of a free-trade agreement (FTA) with the US and joining the Japan-led Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
An FTA would not just be a leading indicator of joining the CPTPP, but a precondition for it. Only by the US taking the lead would Japan, Australia, Canada and other US allies feel that they have the necessary support to deal with pressure from Beijing and be willing to sign bilateral FTAs with Taiwan.
Late last year, more than one-third of all members of the US House of Representatives signed a letter calling for FTA talks with Taiwan, while a Washington Post opinion piece prior to Taiwan’s elections suggested that a Taiwan-US partnership could start with FTA talks.
The time is right, and as US-China trade tensions continue, the strategic value of Taiwan’s position at the center of the first island chain is increasing.
Judging from the decision by US President Donald Trump’s administration to increase steel import tariffs on the EU, Canada and Mexico, and his demands that the North American Free Trade Agreement be renegotiated as soon as he took office, Taiwan must not pin any unrealistic hopes on the US, naively thinking that because the geostrategic scales are tipping in Taiwan’s favor there would be no cost attached to an FTA with the US.
A Taiwan-US deal would not be a unilateral giving of benefits, but rather a mutual agreement between partners built on shared values, as well as mutual benefits and interests.
Having won the election with a record number of votes, Tsai and her administration control the government, and thus also shoulder complete responsibility and accountability. She cannot shy away from the necessity of grasping this opportunity to remove barriers — namely, the import bans on US pork and on food products from five Japanese prefectures imposed after the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant disaster — to an FTA with the US and membership in the CPTPP.
An agreement on food security issues regarding imports could be reached based on scientific tests and rational discussion, but as politicians continue to block each other and obtain benefits for their own parties in a vicious circle, the issue has become a partisan nightmare.
Ractopamine, which has been allowed in Japan and South Korea for many years, has been thoroughly vilified, and the 2018 referendum on “nuclear food” was a schoolbook example of populism overriding expertise.
Allowing the import of US pork would have an impact on Taiwan’s agricultural sector; the two-year binding period of the referendum on food product imports from the five Japanese prefectures is to expire late this year.
The responsibility for removing these two big obstacles rests with Tsai, who is under no pressure ahead of the 2024 elections.
FTAs with the US and Japan, as well as the repatriation of industry chains by China-based Taiwanese businesses, are the two pillars on which the nation’s economic transformation and upgrade could rest.
Along with the effect trade policies could have on national security, they would have the same historic significance that the administration’s introduction of pension reform and same-sex marriage had during Tsai’s first term.
Chen Yung-chang is deputy secretary-general of the Taipei Chamber of Commerce.
Translated by Perry Svensson
Swirling within the cybersphere’s vast ocean of reports, statistics and graphs about the international coronavirus pandemic, there is a short sentence out there in the worldwide web, which the Chinese government doesn’t want people to notice. It is on the Johns Hopkins University website “https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html” which houses the popular “live map” of Wuhan coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) data from individual countries. That sentence reads: “The map’s names of locations correspond with the official designations used by the US State Department, including for Taiwan.” Most readers may think this merely is an unremarkable footnote, akin to other source data on the site. But
On March 6, China announced through Hong Kong’s Chinese-language Ming Pao that Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) would visit Wuhan “soon.” On the same day, US-based Chinese-language IPK Media published an article by Chinese tycoon Ren Zhiqiang (任志強), with the headline: “An official call to arms against Xi: The clown who insists on wearing the emperor’s new clothes.” Will the truth about the struggles inside the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak finally be revealed? Ren’s article is reminiscent of Tang Dynasty poet Luo Binwang’s (駱賓王) “An official call to arms against Empress Wu Zetian (武則天)
Recent global media coverage of Taiwan has at times reduced the nation’s success in containing the spread of COVID-19 to some East Asian values such as cooperation with social control or Confucianism. An article in Wired magazine debunks this myth, crediting the nation’s success to democracy and transparency. It is appalling to learn that this misconception still exists. Here is one thing that world citizens should keep in mind: Taiwan is the first and only country in Asia that has legalized same-sex marriage. There is nothing Confucian about that. If anything, the Confucian legacy is a major obstacle that Taiwanese
The novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 — or the Wuhan virus, after the Chinese city from which it emerged — could not have come at a more advantageous time for China’s communist government. Not for the Chinese people, of course, thousands of whom have perished because of Beijing’s lack of transparency, disinformation and cruel refusal to cooperate with international public health organizations. No, the advantage goes exclusively to Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), whose deceptive practices unleashed the deadly virus to the world. To understand how Beijing benefits from the pandemic, it is necessary