WASHINGTON — It is “absolutely in the interest of the United States” to support Taiwan joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership despite China’s position that the island nation should be under its umbrella, according to Robert Wang, a former State department foreign officer stationed in southeast Asia.
At a Hudson Institute panel Monday, Wang, who worked for over 30 years in the State department in five Southeastern Asia countries, said the region may begin to question America’s commitment to its allies if it doesn’t move strongly in the future to include Taiwan in regional trade agreements.
“It will be seen as essentially the shirking of a responsibility of the United States,” said Wang, who previously worked for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. “Countries in the region will look at this example and say, ‘Is the United States really committed to these values?’”
The TPP is a 12-country trade deal involving nations surrounding the Pacific Rim, notably excluding China. The deal is designed to take down trade barriers and standardize elements of trade like working conditions and environmental regulations.
It is awaiting ratification by Congress before it comes into force. In America, many in the Republican-controlled Congress are opposed to the deal. ,
The main reason for Taiwan’s exclusion from regional trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, is the “China factor,” Hudson panelists said. Many countries in the region do not want to upset the mainland Chinese government in Beijing where official policy seeks reunification with Taiwan.
In 1979, the United States terminated official relations with Taiwan when it recognized the People’s Republic of China. The U.S. maintains unofficial relations with Taiwan.
Any country that seeks to enter into a trade deal with Taiwan would also be making a statement on its sovereignty, said Lotta Danielsson, vice president of the U.S.-Taiwan business council. Danielsson said most countries choose to simply not deal with the island, for fear of provoking China and its large population eager for imported goods.
According to Danielsson, some countries have sidestepped the issue by signing agreements that use Taiwan’s World Trade Organization name, an organization that numbers bothChina and Taiwan as members. China is Taiwan’s largest trading partner.
Wang said “it’s a no brainer” that Taiwan should be included in regional trade agreements. “China is the major factor. Everyone understands that makes it very difficult for Taiwan to enter.”
While both major political party nominees for president in the U.S, have emphatically opposed the TPP trade deal on the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton once favored it, while she was Secretary of State.
Derek Scissors, a resident scholar on the TPP at the American Enterprise Institute, said he didn’t see how Clinton could ever again back the deal. Rumors persist she ultimately wants to support it.