During an e-mail interview with the Central News Agency (CNA) earlier this month, in which the expected benefits of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) signed by Taipei and Beijing were discussed, WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy was quoted as referring to Taiwan not by its official designation at the trade organization, but rather as “Chinese Taipei.”
Wire searches returned the key two entries — one, the original interview in English, and the other a Chinese translation of that interview.
In the English article, titled “ECFA will help Taiwan integrate into global economy: WTO,” CNA quotes Lamy as saying: “Now, the ECFA is an important initiative in this endeavor and we think it could considerably improve cross-strait relations and can be very important for ensuring the competitiveness of domestic industries and further integrate Chinese Taipei into the world economy.”
Meanwhile, the Chinese version avoided direct mention of the national title [「現在，ECFA在這些努力中是一個重要作為，我們認為可以相當程度地改善兩岸關係，對確保國內產業競爭力及進一步納入世界經濟也是非常重要」].
I have since learned from a contact at CNA that throughout the interview, CNA reporters always referred to Taiwan as “Taiwan,” while Lamy invariably referred to it as “Chinese Taipei.” He did not even use Taiwan’s official name as a WTO member, the (admittedly tongue-twisting) Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu, or a more convenient shorthand, such as Republic of China.
The CNA reporters’ insistence on referring to Taiwan by its proper name, and use of the word Taiwan in its headlines, is commendable, especially in light of the pro-KMT management at the top of the news organization.
The CNA sources also say that “Chinese Taipei” is the name the WTO usually uses in interviews and documents. The WTO Web site’s list of 153 members uses the designation “Chinese Taipei,” although in alphabetical terms it falls under “T.”
The “Chinese Taipei” page, meanwhile, refers to Taiwan as the “Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu (Chinese Taipei) and the WTO,” with most links to articles and documents using “Chinese Taipei.”
The “Chinese Taipei” designation is obviously a concession on the part of the WTO to please Beijing, and raises questions about the world body’s ability to properly “review” the ECFA documents that, once translated into English, Taipei and Beijing will be submitting to it.
By its mandate, the WTO should be treating Taiwan and China as two distinct, sovereign entities in ensuring that the ECFA respects WTO regulations.
However, the organization’s fuzziness on Taiwan’s name and ostensible willingness to yield to pressure from Beijing highlights the very real possibility that in reviewing the ECFA, the WTO could regard the matter as a domestic one, or at minimum be extremely reluctant to raises issues with some of the clauses.
Either way, this bodes ill for Taiwanese sovereignty, even if only at the symbolic level. Some Taiwanese media have already speculated that at a more personal level, Lamy regards the deal as a domestic one.
If Lamy’s were the guiding policy at the WTO, then the body’s “review” of the ECFA would be meaningless, as the WTO can only intervene in trade matters involving two sovereign states.
E-mails to Mr. Lamy’s office went unanswered.
J. Michael Cole is deputy news editor at the Taipei Times.
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