Japan’s doublespeak on Taiwan question, CPTPP will backfire
Published: Sep 23, 2021 09:55 PM
CPTPP photo: VCG

CPTPP photo: VCG

Days after the Chinese mainland formally submitted its application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the island of Taiwan also filed to join the free trade treaty. The Taiwan authorities on Wednesday said they have notified all members of the CPTPP of its formal application to join and sought their support.

Commenting on the island's application on Thursday, Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that "there is only one China in the world, and Taiwan is an inalienable part of China's territory… China firmly opposes all official interactions with Taiwan, firmly rejects Taiwan's accession to any agreement or organization of official nature."

However, in a sharp contrast to its earlier caution toward the Chinese mainland's application to join the pact, Japan has immediately welcomed the island's bid. Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said Tokyo will respond to the island's bid "based on a strategic point of view and with the public's understanding."

While members like Singapore and Malaysia welcomed the Chinese mainland's earlier application, Japan at the time said it would have to determine if the Chinese mainland meets the "extremely high standards" of the pact.

The CPTPP is a mega free trade bloc rather than a political organization. Japan, as a member of the pact, should approach the issue in the best way that could boost regional trade and growth. Instead, Tokyo chose to confuse everyone with its muddled rhetoric. 

Given the huge gap in the economic and trade volume between the Chinese mainland and the island of Taiwan, there are obvious reasons for Japan and other members to welcome the Chinese mainland to join the pact. 

The Chinese mainland's economic growth and trade boom in spite of COVID-19 have proven the world's second-largest economy's contribution and significant role in regional development. According to official data, trade between the Chinese mainland and Japan has reached $317.5 billion despite COVID-19 in 2020. The Chinese mainland is Japan's largest trading partner, export market and source of imports. Statistics from Taiwan authorities show that the island's exports to Japan were at $23.4 billion in 2020, less than 10 percent of trade between the Chinese mainland and Japan.

Admittedly, Chinese mainland's entry to the CPTPP trade pact will not be easy. The CPTPP has firm rules on subsidies, data flows, and labor and environment protections, though China has been continuing its far-reaching reform and opening-up. In upcoming negotiations, the Chinese mainland and CPTPP members need to address a series of complicated issues, and it may be a time-consuming process.

However, if Japan and other member states make political calculations, secretly obstruct the Chinese mainland's entry, and promote the island's entry, the trade bloc will not reach its true potential. This practice of politicizing economic and trade issues will inevitably be opposed by other CPTPP members.

The author is a vice chairman of the China Society for World Trade Organization Studies in Beijing.