Judging from the reaction in the media, WTO members were "taken aback," "shocked" and "angered" last week when Taiwan -- or, as it is so inconveniently called at the trade body, the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu (Chinese Taipei) -- announced it would block the appointment of a Chinese judge to the Appellate Body.
The "surprise decision" by Taipei to question the impartiality of Zhang Yuejiao (
Though the move may be seen as an annoyance by other WTO members who would rather continue with business as usual, for Taipei it is of an almost existential pitch, as it concerns the very future of its trade relations. Excluded from almost every other international organization and having seen Chinese or Beijing-friendly individuals assume high positions in bodies such as the UN and the WHO, Taipei has every reason to dread the high-level appointment of a potential Beijing minder in yet another international organization.
Seeing that its efforts to isolate Taiwan by political and military means have failed to break the nation's back -- and that it may in fact have consolidated the ranks of those who oppose annexation -- through the WTO Beijing could now turn to the one weapon that, above any other, threatens the survival of Taiwan: its economy.
As Taiwan tries to find a new role for itself in a transforming world economy -- a process that will involve moving into highly contentious business sectors that are characterized by a great amount of litigation -- success will largely be contingent upon impartiality at the WTO court. If that body is allowed to lean in Beijing's favor or to be used as a means to hold Taiwan hostage, Taipei's strategy for the development of its trade sector will be compromised and its detractors will once again be in a position to use the state of the economy as an argument against the central government.
The problem is not with Zhang per se, whose credentials have yet to be ascertained, but rather the numerous precedents set by Beijing in other international organizations, as well as the type of pressure that it can bring to bear. Even as they engage in multilateralism, authoritarian regimes have difficulty shedding their old reflexes, meaning that Zhang -- just like WHO chief Margaret Chan (
Beijing has deftly played its cards in recent years, so much so that its threat to Taiwan has become far more insidious than the blunt possibility of military invasion. Pressured by the international community into joining international organizations as a "responsible stakeholder," Beijing has successfully exploited the opportunities that multilateralism has created to turn Taiwan into an outcast. With the proper people in place, the WTO could very well be the latest step in that plan.
In light of all this, inconvenient and "shocking" though it may be for other WTO members, Taiwan's reaction was the proper one. It cannot afford to lower its guard as it tries to protect its interests at this most important body. The stakes are simply too high.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has over the past few months continued to escalate its hegemonic rhetoric and increase its incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. The US, in turn, has finally realized how its “strategic ambiguity” is increasingly wearing thin. Similarly, any hopes the US had that the PRC would be a responsible stakeholder and economic player have diminished, if not been abandoned. Taiwan, of course, remains as the same de facto independent, democratic nation that the PRC covets. As a result, the US needs to reconsider not only the amount, but also the type of arms
Taking advantage of my Taipei Times editors’ forbearance, I thought I would go with a change of pace by offering a few observations on an interesting nature topic, the many varieties of snakes in Taiwan. I will be drawing on my experiences living in Taiwan five times, from my teenage years in Kaohsiung back in the early sixties, to my last assignment as American Institute in Taiwan Director in 2006-9. Taiwan, with its semitropical climate, is a perfect setting for serpents. Indeed, one might say serpents are an integral part of the island’s ecosystem. Taiwan is warm, humid, with lots of
China constantly seeks out ways to complain about perceived slights and provocations as pretexts for its own aggressive behavior. It is both victimization paranoia and a form of information warfare that keeps the West on the defensive. True to form, China objected even to the innocuous reference to Taiwan at April 16’s summit meeting between US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Neither leader’s prepared remarks even mentioned Taiwan, out of deference to the Japanese side. Biden’s opening statement was modest: “Prime Minister Suga and I affirmed our ironclad support for US-Japanese alliance and for our shared security.
There is no ambiguity when it comes to war. Ambiguity begs for certainty and a lack thereof has historically led to war. History is full of examples: Europe’s and the US’ ambiguity as to how they would respond to Hitler’s growing territorial expansion in Europe was certainly a contributing factor to World War II. In the same vein, US ambiguity toward Japan’s expansionist militarism in the 1930s clearly led to the Pearl Harbor attacks that started the war in Asia in 1941. Ambiguity in a world with leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) will inevitably