We Applaud the Taipei Singapore FTAChina Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
August 6, 2010
On August 5, Taipei and Singapore announced the commencement of economic cooperation negotiations under the World Trade Organization (WTO) framework. The move underscored a strong desire for such an agreement by both sides, and officially kicked off the negotiation process. Soon after Taipei and Beijing signed ECFA, President Ma personally led a campaign to sign free trade agreements (FTAs). That such good news would arrive so soon, has left the public surprised and excited.
According to the press release, Taipei will be known by the name, "Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu," in accordance with WTO conventions. The name will be abbreviated as "Chinese Taipei." Taipei and Singapore will sign an agreement promoting economic cooperation. In fact WTO expressly requires members to permit other members to sign trade agreements consistent with WTO norms. Taipei and Singapore are both WTO members. As a WTO member, Taipei already had a basis by which it could expand bilateral interaction with Singapore. This includes signing economic cooperation agreements. Because we already had an existing framework, the expansion of relations was merely a matter of form, and obstacles were kept to a minimum.
Following this formal declaration of intent, government agencies in Taipei and Singapore will hold step by step discussions, and eventually arrive at specific agreements regarding cooperation. The agreement may not use the term "FTA." But it will lower trade barriers and promote economic exchanges. This is entirely consistent with the purpose of an FTA. An FTA can go by many names, and include many different provisions. Substantively speaking, the economic partnership agreement between Taipei and Singapore will be an FTA.
This development is highly encouraging. It will benefit Taipei in many ways. First of all, Taipei has signed FTAs with only a handeful of governments -- those with which it maintains diplomatic relations. But the volume of trade is too small. The political symbolism is more important than the economic benefits. This is not the case with Singapore. It is one of Asia's Four Little Dragons. Its economic success is the envy of the world. It is a member of ASEAN. It has close economic and trade ties with India. Singapore's industries and Taiwan's industries are not in direct competition with each other, but instead complement each other. An economic cooperation agreement between Taipei and Singapore can create more trade opportunities on Taiwan. It can create opportunities for Taiwan businesses in India and ASEAN, by way of Singapore.
In addition to significant economic and trade benefits, the Taipei Singapore FTA will establish a model to be emulated. Many governments would like to sign FTAs with Taipei. But in the past, although these governments were under the aegis of the WTO, they gave up on the idea because they feared opposition from Beijing. Now however, Taipei and Beijing have been reconciled. Taipei and Beijing have themselves signed ECFA. Singapore may be small, but it is an economically important trading nation. It has always been extremely careful and thorough in its decision-making. It has never acted recklessly or in haste. Its willingness to formally negotiate an economic cooperation agreement with Taipei means that it has already given the matter much thought and communicated with Taipei at great length. This will of course positively influence other governments. For Taipei, which longs to break out of its isolation and to avoid marginalization, this is significant indeed.
This breakthrough may have positive implications for cross-Strait relations and internal politics on Taiwan. Cross-Strait relations have recovered rapidly since President Ma took office. But some on Taiwan have always doubted Beijing's sincerity. The Green Camp has long alleged that Beijing's accomodations were merely ploys to make Taiwan increasingly dependent on the Mainland. Beijing's willingnes to allow Taipei to sign FTAs with other governments will be a concrete indicator of its sincerity. President Ma has personally led the way on signing FTAs. Therefore Beijing will have to issue some sort of statement in response.
Taiwan Affairs Office Director Wang Yi Jun said Beijing understands Taipei's need to establish economic relations with other governments. Under the general framework of peaceful development, the two sides should be able to find a solution. Beijing should offer Taipei "fair and reasonable treatment, pragmatic and appropriate handling." Such open goodwill is unprecedented. But will words be followed by deeds? Taipei must "listen to his words, and look at his deeds." Taipei and Singapore have begun negotiating an economic cooperation agreement. They have confirmed indirectly that Beijing's bottom line has changed.
When Taipei has sufficient room to survive in the international community, it will no longer feel such a powerful sense of insecurity. It will have fewer doubts and fears when dealing with Beijing. An FTA with Singapore is the first positive result. This will discredit obstinate opponents of ECFA. It will encourage the public on Taiwan to adopt a more pragmatic attitude towards the Mainland, and to improve relations with the Mainland. It will generate increased public support for cross-Strait reconciliation.
In the past, when Singapore expressed a desire to sign an FTA with Taipei, the Chen Shui-bian regime insisted on the name "Taiwan." This, plus firm opposition from Beijing, forced Singapore to give up on the idea. Now Taipei and Singapore have resumed negotiations. One reason is that the Ma administration adopted a pragmatic strategy, a viable model able to overcome the dispute over names. It is creating new forms of cross-Strait interaction, enabling Taipei more room for survival and growth. Which is the right way to defend one's national interests, and to care for the people? The answer is clear. President Ma has achieved a previously unimagineable breakthrough. For this he deserves public acclaim, We hope the government will persist in its efforts, and continue to achieve positive results.