Taiwan DPP blasted over using CPTPP bid to seek secession
Japan, Canada could use Taiwan as ‘bargaining chip’ over trade pact
Published: Sep 24, 2021 01:11 AM
Representatives from CPTPP member countries hold hands after the signing ceremony of the CPTPP in Chile on March 8, 2018. Photo: IC

Representatives from CPTPP member countries hold hands after the signing ceremony of the CPTPP in Chile on March 8, 2018. Photo: IC

The island of Taiwan's application for membership of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), about one week after the Chinese mainland's, was met with stern warnings from the Chinese central government on Thursday. 

Calling the fresh move a zero-cost political farce directed by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) authority, regional affairs observers urged the DPP to awaken to the harsh realities of its doomed attempt to confront the mainland and the island's increasingly marginalized economy, as the DPP continues to be in cahoots with either Washington or Tokyo to play its slippery Taiwan tricks.

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a press conference on Thursday that China firmly opposes official exchanges between any country and the island of Taiwan, and firmly rejects Taiwan's accession to any agreement or organization of official nature. 

There's only one China in the world and the Taiwan region is an inseparable part of China, Zhao said, stressing that the one-China principle is a universally acknowledged norm in international relations and the common consensus of the international society. 

The island formally applied to join the grouping on Wednesday, after the mainland filed its application last week. 

In other official remarks, Zhu Fenglian, spokesperson with the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, told reporters on Thursday that the country's application to join the CPTPP bodes well for the push for Asia-Pacific regional economic integration and is propitious for fostering global economic recovery, trade development and investment growth after the virus outbreak.

The participation of China's Taiwan region in regional economic cooperation must be based on the premise of the one-China principle, Zhu said, voicing opposition to the Democratic Progressive Party authority's attempt to explore so-called "international space" using the excuse of economics and trade, and undertaking activities in pursuit of "independence." 

It is hoped that the relevant countries can appropriately handle Taiwan-related issues and will not provide any convenience or platform for acts of "Taiwan independence," according to the spokesperson.

No endowment in place 

The island's WTO accession and its free trade progress, essentially individual cases under the auspices of the mainland, hardly give it authority to apply for global deals such as the CPTPP without the mainland's permission, regional affairs watchers said.

The island has applied to join the grouping in the name of being a separate customs territory, which it uses in the WTO, Reuters reported Thursday.

Taiwan region's WTO membership as a separate customs territory - a special arrangement in the case of WTO enrolment that covers both sovereign entities and separate customs territories - is by no means tantamount to endowing the island, an integral part of China, with some sort of natural power thereafter to sign up for any official international agreements or groupings, Tang Yonghong, deputy director of Taiwan Research Center at Xiamen University, told the Global Times on Thursday.

Under international law, the island's accession to any official agreement or organization is unlikely to succeed without gaining the mainland's authorization, Tang said. 

He cited economic cooperation pacts the island signed with New Zealand and Singapore, both in 2013, when Ma Ying-jeou served as Taiwan's leader pledging allegiance to the 1992 Consensus, as examples of individual cases of such agreements that wouldn't have been inked had the Taiwan authorities failed to get the mainland's nod.

The adherence to the one-China principle is non-negotiable and there's no chance of Taiwan securing a CPTPP membership while the mainland remains absent from the 11-nation regional trade deal, Gao Lingyun, an expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, told the Global Times on Thursday.

Only by obtaining the agreement of all member countries can new applicants join the CPTPP. In the case of Taiwan island, existing members, if intending to vote for the mainland's accession, are unlikely to vote in favor of the island simultaneously, considering the DPP authority has shown it is willing to latch onto the US and Japan to gang up against the Chinese mainland, experts said.

The CPTPP became effective in December 2018, succeeding the Trans-Pacific Partnership after the US withdrew in 2017 under former President Donald Trump.

A political farce 

The island's application for CPTPP accession is a zero-cost act of political manipulation, experts said, putting the possibility of Taiwan's eventual admission to nearly zero even though it went to extreme lengths to embarrass the mainland.

Political considerations apparently played a major part in Taiwan's CPTPP membership application, Tang commented, revealing the DPP authority's intention to forge an alliance with CPTPP member nations to confront the mainland.

If the application is rejected, the separatist DPP authority can hype up the accusation that the rejection was a result of coercion from the Chinese mainland and accuse it of preventing the island from participating in international cooperation, Zhang Wensheng, a deputy dean of the Taiwan Research Institute at Xiamen University, told the Global Times on Thursday.

Japan, which holds the rotating CPTPP chairmanship this year, is likely to use Taiwan as a "chip" to bargain with the mainland to gain benefits, while another member state, Canada, is likely to follow suit at the behest of the US, according to Zhang.

Meanwhile, Singapore, Vietnam and Brunei, among other CPTPP members that have close political and economic partnerships with China, will not challenge China's bottom line on the Taiwan question to the detriment of their national interests. "This is nothing but a farce written by the US and Japan and performed by the DPP," Zhang remarked.

The island is also economically motivated to seek a seat at the grouping, as its economy, heavily reliant on external resources and markets, has over the past two decades been distancing itself from the center stage of the world's economy alongside the mainland economy's rise to global prominence, according to Tang.

"The marginalization of the island's economy, which increasingly becomes the case amid its self-inflicted deterioration of cross-Straits ties, means the island can't exploit external resources and markets for its own development," the expert said, adding that the island could be hoping for free trade deals to pull itself from a growing slide into invisibility.

However, he noted that such plans are essentially an illusion, as the island continues to be at odds with the mainland when it comes to the one-China principle.

Moreover, a trade pact with high standards such as the CPTPP could send shockwaves through the island's economy, as tariff elimination under the CPTPP could put the island's local manufacturers under pressure from their peer businesses in member states such as Vietnam.

As Gao put it, the mainland is much stronger and more globalized than the island in economic terms, suggesting that existing member states would naturally opt to team up with the mainland out of economic considerations.