The entry of Taiwan and China into the WTO won't necessarily foster closer ties between the two sides of the strait.
While both sides will enter the WTO as separate entities, Beijing has already poured cold water on Taiwan's hopes that membership would help restart long-stalled dialogue and bring the two sides closer together.
Zhang Mingqing (張銘清), spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, said last week that the WTO would not be the place to discuss certain economic and trade issues that he described as "China's internal issues."
He said: "The two sides can negotiate under the principle of `one China.'"
This bodes ill for hopes of closer ties, as Taipei refuses to accept such preconditions and has said whether or not ties improve under the WTO will depend on China.
"Whether or not it can improve our economic relations with China really depends upon China's attitude," said John Deng
Besides opportunities to talk at ministerial meetings, Taiwan and China could face off if one side has a trade issue -- such as concerns over the implementation of free-trade commitments -- and requests bilateral discussions or perhaps even arbitration under the WTO's dispute settlement body.
But Deng said that China's refusal to accept Taiwan as an equal within the organization will prevent the two sides from holding talks under the auspices of the WTO.
China would probably not request either bilateral talks or arbitration on trade disputes because of its unwillingness to "internationalize" its differences with Taiwan.
"We certainly hope that both sides take advantage of the WTO mechanism and its many written rules but [China] needs to overcome its fear, once they use that mechanism, of Taiwan becoming equal to them," he said.
Issues most likely to pressure the two sides into talking would be restrictions on the free flow of goods and services, a basic right extended to all members of the WTO.
Taiwan bans direct trade with China and restricts direct investment.
However, in line with WTO rules and a broad-based consensus reached on the issue, the government is moving to ease the restrictions.
"After we enter the WTO, we will make an additional review and make adjustments to the indirect method of trade with China and further open the market to more Chinese imports based upon the consensus reached at the Economic Development Advisory Conference (經發會)," said Wayne Wu (吳文雅), director general of the Board of Foreign Trade.
One major consensus reached at the three-day conference held in late August was that direct trade and remittances between the two sides should be liberalized and imports from China should be moderately expanded, according to the Mainland Affairs Council.
Chen Po-chih (陳博志), chairman of the Council for Economic Planning and Development, believes there will be no change in China's attitude on relations with Taiwan once both sides enter the organization.
Chen is also concerned that China may continue its policy of trying to isolate Taiwan from the international community by stifling its voice, just as it did at the recent APEC conference held in Shanghai.
"It is quite natural for China to try to use the WTO to embarrass us or stop us from joining international society," Chen said.
Fear of a last-minute attempt by Beijing to impede or alter Taiwan's status for entry to the WTO -- which is slated for approval on Nov. 11, one day after China's -- worries Minister of Economic Affairs Lin Hsin-yi (
Lin has warned that last-minute antics from Beijing are a possibility and has said Taiwan will wait until the "last minute" to make a decision on whether to invoke Article XIII of the WTO General Agreement.
Invocation of this clause against Beijing would bar China from the benefits of free trade and market access Taiwan must extend to all other members.
Despite the minister's concern, senior WTO officials have said that Beijing has consistently assured officials in Geneva that it supports Taiwan's entry and will not obstruct it.
"The short-term strategy for both sides is to get in and then in the first two or three months come up with a mid- to long-term strategy on how to deal with the cross-strait economic and political issues, either under the WTO or not under the WTO," Yang said.
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