The WTO Secretariat has requested Taiwan's permanent mission to downgrade its status to the level of an economic and trade office amid pressure from Beijing, Minister of Foreign Affairs Eugene Chien (
"It's true that they [the WTO], under pressure from China, recently asked our mission to rename itself," Chien told the press yesterday morning.
"Our current title is a permanent mission, but they have expressed their hope to have this name changed into an office just like Hong Kong," Chien said.
Chien's comment confirmed a report in the Liberty Times yesterday.
The formal title for Taiwan's mission to the Geneva-based global trading regulatory body is the Permanent Mission of the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu.
The name for Hong Kong's delegation is Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office.
The WTO expressed hope that the titles for all of the officials at Taiwan's delegation would be amended, the foreign minister confirmed.
According to the Liberty Times report, the WTO has also asked Taiwan to state parenthetically on official documents that phrases such as Executive Yuan do not imply that Taiwan is a soveriegn state.
Chien said Taiwan entered the WTO as a separate customs territory instead of a sovereign state, so the WTO Secretariat argued that all the wordings with references to Taiwan as a sovereign state should be omitted from legal papers from Taiwan.
Chien said Taiwan is still in close negotiations with the WTO on the requests made by the body.
When contacted by phone yesterday, a WTO spokesman said he had no knowledge of these requests from the body and therefore was unable to confirm them.
Chien also confirmed that Yen Ching-chang (顏慶章), Taiwan's permanent representative to the WTO, has returned to Taipei to discuss the matter with his superiors.
Yen was tight-lipped yesterday when contacted by the Taipei Times.
"It's not proper for me to answer all these questions," Yen said over the phone.
"I have just been instructed to return to Taiwan to attend a pertinent meeting," Yen said.
A source at the Geneva-based mission said Yen alone is in charge of this matter, adding that nobody else in the mission has been authorized to speak about the issue.
Since Taipei and China entered the WTO in January of last year, Beijing has adopted various measures in an attempt to downgrade Taipei's representation in the global body.
Before sitting down with Taipei over a steel-dumping dispute in December of last year, Beijing had written to Taipei's delegation referring to the office as an economic and trade office rather than Taipei's official title.
China notified Taiwan's WTO representative office in Geneva late November of its intent to open negotiations on exports of cold-rolled steel.
But in the letter China referred to Taiwan's delegation as the economic and trade office, instead of its official title.
Taipei then lashed out at Beijing and requested that it refer to the delegation by its official title. Before the two sides sat down for the first talks under the WTO umbrella, Beijing finally addressed Taiwan by its official title under the WTO.