China has stated publicly that it will oppose Taiwan joining a major trans-Pacific trade deal – just days after Beijing said it wanted to become a member of the same agreement.
Signed by 11 Asia-Pacific countries in 2018, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) is the region’s biggest free-trade pact and accounts for around 13.5% of the global economy.
Taiwan has lobbied for years to join and announced on Thursday it had officially applied. “Taiwan can’t be left out in the world and has to integrate into the regional economy,” cabinet spokesman Lo Ping-cheng told reporters.
But China, which claims self-ruled, democratic Taiwan as its own territory, said Taipei should not be allowed to join.
“We firmly oppose any country having official exchanges with Taiwan and firmly oppose the Taiwan region’s accession to any official treaties or organisations,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian stated.
Last week China submitted its own application to join the CPTPP. Negotiations for the sweeping trade deal were initially led by the United States as a way to increase its influence in the Asia-Pacific region.
It was originally designed to keep China, which has its own regional trade deal, locked out. But former US president Donald Trump, who disdained multilateral agreements, pulled out of the deal in 2017.
The CPTPP is the successor to those negotiations and currently includes Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam.
Those hoping to join must have the unanimous support of all the pact’s member countries, something both China and Taiwan may struggle to obtain.
China’s application comes at a time when Beijing is feuding with a host of Western nations, especially Australia, which it has placed trade restrictions on.
Australia this week said China must end a freeze on contact with senior Australian politicians if it hopes to sign up.
Meanwhile, smaller countries within the CPTPP are unlikely to want to risk incurring Beijing’s wrath by agreeing to let Taiwan join.
China’s authoritarian leaders have vowed to one day seize Taiwan, by force if necessary. They have ramped up economic, military and diplomatic pressure on the island since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen, who views Taiwan as a sovereign nation.
China often sends military aircraft into Taiwan’s air defence zone to display its displeasure. On Thursday, Taiwanese officials said 19 Chinese planes – including 14 fighter jets and two nuclear-capable bombers – crossed into the zone, one of the biggest incursions in months.
But China’s growing threats towards Taiwan have generated international sympathy for the island among Western powers and Tokyo responded favourably to Taiwan’s application.
“Japan welcomes Taiwan’s application to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said.
John Deng, Taipei’s lead trade negotiator, said he expected Chinese opposition but portrayed Taiwan as a more reliable free-trade partner.
“We have the foundation of democracy and the rule of law, so all our regulations are transparent and we respect private properties,” he said.
- AFP with additional editing by Sean O’Meara