When Deputy US Trade Representative Karan Bhatia visited Taipei in May, the local media called it progress. It was the first visit by a senior US government official in a long time. Over the 1990s there had been Cabinet-level visits, but none in the present administration of US President George W. Bush. That's progress?
The purpose of the visit was a long awaited Trade and Investment Framework Agreement meeting. Taiwan had shown sufficient progress on intellectal property rights to remove it from the 301 Priority Watch List. In this meeting, Taiwan continued to show progress on other matters but work still had to be done.
However, the real interest in the meeting was in the potential for a free trade agreement between Taiwan and the US, and its impact on cross-strait relations. There are various interests on cross-strait issues within Taiwan, but some of the Taiwan media played the FTA issue as most important.
Soon afterwards the issue of a possible FTA for Taiwan was raised in Bhatia's testimony to the US House International Relations Committee. It seems to be common in Washington these days, with it's almost complete focus on the Middle East and North Korea, that the usually ambiguous words used on other sensitive issues easily get policy vocabulary a bit twisted.
The first talks between the US and Taiwan on the feasibility of a FTA took place several years ago. The competition among countries that wanted to sign a FTA agreement with the US at that time was just as difficult as it is today. Then as now, the US Trade Representative (USTR) established the economic goals the US wants from a FTA.
What was seen by the US side in those early years, and openly agreed by many on the Taiwan side, was that the FTA priority for Taiwan was political -- including support for Taiwan's participation in the international community and strengthening its position in cross-strait relations. The USTR, with its economic priorities, saw this as an opportunity to improve on bilateral economic problems, most wanted by US companies or industries, such as intellectual property rights, not on a FTA agreement that would be of less importance to US companies.
Taiwan now seems to have established a much stronger economic basis for arguing its case on a FTA, helped ironically by the rise of China's economic importance. Ironically also, however, it seems the US side has changed its strategy on the FTA issue with Taiwan -- in entirely the opposite direction. There is now in Taiwan a very strong and important debate on the extent Taiwan's economy can gain from greater relations with China's economy, without losing it's separate identity, sovereignty and democracy. That is of crucial importance to Taiwan, but it also is equally important to the US and Japan.
Taiwanese companies need to expand to other countries besides China. Over the years, they have demonstrated their capacity to move quickly from one country to another when necessary, especially in Southeast Asia, but elsewhere as well. Many US companies in China have Taiwanese supervisors and technicians. Having a US-Taiwan FTA partnership would be important for both the US and Taiwan.
The statements in the press made by Bhatia seem to suggest that Taiwan should have closer ties to China. That "given the important role China plays in the East Asian economy, and given the integration of the East Asia economy that is ongoing, it's important that Taiwan not be economically isolated from developments in the rest of East Asia ... and cross-strait relations affect that."
His remarks were about Taiwan's need to move closer to China for its own interests as well as those of US companies with China exposure -- and that might help in getting a FTA agreement. He seems to believe that it is Taiwan's policies, not China's, that are preventing this from happening.
Setting aside the internal struggle within Taiwan on matters dealing with cross-strait issues and Taiwan's liberty, the suggestion is that Taiwan's industry, more closely tagged to China, would be better for the US. There may be some US companies that would like it, but it's doubtful that leaders responsible for security -- in the US, Taiwan or other allies -- would agree.
The Taiwanese government has often called for dialogue with China to discuss the many practical issues that need to be addressed. The US government publicly encourages this.
It is still US policy that a change in Taiwan's relationship with China, such as that being suggested, would need the assent of the people of Taiwan.
Now that Taiwan has developed a sound economic basis to argue for a FTA, the USTR seems to think that Taiwan should cozy-up to China. That is close to a policy of no FTA until Taiwan is part of China (the price the PRC demands is that, ultimately, Taiwan must accept becoming a part of China). While most observers feel the US had never been interested in negotiating a FTA with Taiwan, few thought it would come to this.
In the end, the price Taiwan would have to pay for agreeing to an FTA, as suggested by the USTR, would be beyond what a free country finds acceptable. A Taiwan that can help the region maintain its economic and political liberties, might convince US businesses that the price would be too high even for them.
Nat Bellocchi is a former chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan and is now a special adviser to the Liberty Times Group. The views expressed in this article are his own.
Although internal Chinese politics are largely defined by meticulously concocted mysteries, it is an open secret that the battle for who will ascend to the highest echelons of Zhongnanhai is decided at the Beidaihe resort. It is where factions within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) engage in horse-trading over leadership selection and delegate appointments long before the party’s national congress. What unfolded at last month’s 20th National Congress was predetermined at the Beidaihe gathering in August. In this context, the CCP, and particularly Chinese President and CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping (習近平), used the event to project power and party unity.
The Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau and the New Taipei City Prosecutors’ Office recently uncovered misconduct by Kaohsiung news outlet China VTV Co (中華微視公司). The company is being investigated for allegedly having financial connections with China without the approval of the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ Investment Commission. China VTV also allegedly conducted an information campaign by creating videos in line with Chinese propaganda and posting them on social media, aiming to foment social division and mistrust in the government, prosecutors said. This is nothing short of exhilarating, as it means that the government is finally using legal means to stop pro-China “accomplices”
Over the past few decades, only judges have been the triers of fact and law in Taiwan’s judiciary. Nevertheless, ordinary people are from next year to have the opportunity to be take on that role in criminal cases, a milestone in Taiwan’s history. The Citizen Judges Act (國民法官法) was passed by the Legislative Yuan on July 22, promulgated by the president on Aug. 12 and is to be implemented on Jan. 1 next year. Under the act, lay people are to be randomly selected as citizen judges who would participate in trial proceedings and adjudicate cases alongside professional judges in
The strategically vital city of Kherson is back in the hands of Ukrainians, albeit under threat of Russian shelling and attacks on its electricity supply. However, as combatants on both sides of an increasingly static firing line prepare for a winter war, there are effectively two separate conflicts emerging — one on the land, the other in the air. What can the West do to help Ukraine meet the immediate tactical challenges, and ultimately seize the longer-term advantage? On land, the arrival of a wet, rainy fall and a harsh winter should lead to a decrease in operations. Both Russia and