Dec 23, 2005

Taiwan: The World Trade Organization and our Sovereignty

Besides dealing with trade issues, the recently completed sixth ministerial meetings in the Doha Round of the WTO conducted in Hong Kong highlighted Taiwan's weak sovereign position in participating in international organizations

Besides dealing with trade issues, the recently completed sixth ministerial meetings in the Doha Round of the World Trade Organization conducted in Hong Kong highlighted Taiwan's weak sovereign position in participating in international organizations.

Although Taiwan is one of the top 15 trading economies in the world, we must participate in the WTO under the clumsy moniker of the "Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu" or the even more denigrating "Chinese Taipei."
Moreover, the People's Republic of China is incessantly engaging in efforts to reduce Taiwan's status to that of Hong Kong and Macau, former colonies of England and Portugal, respectively, both of which are "special administrative regions" of the PRC and are listed in the WTO as "Hong Kong, China" or "Macau, China."

Many Taiwanese may be unaware that the battleground for an equal position for Taiwan in the WTO was surrendered by the former Kuomintang regime in the early 1990s at the beginning of efforts to negotiate Taiwan's entry into the WTO's predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

In late 1992, representatives of the former KMT regime reached a political understanding with the GATT secretariat under which the KMT government accepted a chairman's statement rendering Taiwan's status to one similar to that of Hong Kong and Macau.

Under this "understanding" which was similar in spirit to the KMT's concession of "one China, separate interpretations" in talks with PRC representatives in Hong Kong in September 1992, Taiwan would only be admitted as an observer and should, when full membership was granted, conform to the Hong Kong and Macau model that would have required its representatives not to use any titles implying sovereignty.

Instructed ambassadors
After the Democratic Progressive Party government took office in May 2000, it instructed Taiwan's ambassadors and overseas representatives to lobby against this understanding with the governments of the countries in which they were stationed. Despite these efforts, the final report submitted by the working group regarding Taiwan's accession into the WTO clearly recorded in detail the various points of consensus "agreed" to by the participating countries, but did not list that the working group members had "agreed" on whether Taiwan's status in the WTO would be similar to that of Hong Kong or Macau because no such consensus was reached.

Nevertheless, as related recently by Yen Ching-chang, Taiwan's former permanent representative to the WTO, the English-language version of the final report of the working group on Taiwan's WTO accession submitted in November 2001 displayed on the WTO website removed or revised 30 references in earlier drafts to "president," "the Executive Yuan," "the Legislative Yuan," or various ministries and "central government agencies" to terms that had no implication of sovereignty, such as "government policies."

The reason for such concessions in order to gain accession was directly related to the "political understanding" reached by the KMT with the GATT, the contents of which are still kept secret in a document held in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that is not available for public examination.

Acceptance of the denigrating terms accepted by the KMT regime in late 1992 regarding our accession to GATT gravely undermined Taiwan's international position and has made it impossible for the DPP government to effectively defend our position in the WTO from PRC pressure.

The lack of any protest in the GATT records against the denigrating "chairman's statement" of 1992 displays clearly that the KMT regime had immediately surrendered Taiwan's sovereign position without a struggle in exchange for the right to become a GATT observer and get on what proved to be a slow track to final accession.

After achieving final accession in January 2002, our first permanent representative to the WTO was unable to completely successfully defend the official name of our delegation against five demands raised in February 2003 by then WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi of Thailand, who cited the 1992 "understanding" and was presumably acting under PRC pressure.

Demands being made
These demands would have openly reduced Taiwan's status from a "permanent mission" to an "office" similar to the moniker used by the "Hong Kong, China" delegation, banning members of the Taiwan delegation from using customary diplomatic ranks and titles and that Taiwan not use any terms in WTO documents that imply a sovereign status.

Due to protest from our government, the publication of the WTO annual internal directory was delayed. Although Taiwan's WTO delegation in the Hong Kong ministerial retained their diplomatic monikers and status as "ambassadors," Taiwan's representatives were excluded from the "Green Room" for social interaction among delegates.

The only feasible strategy available in the WTO is for the Taiwan mission to participate actively and positively with a high profile in WTO activities, including entry into key WTO subgroups in order to win sympathy from other WTO members for our political will to play a constructive role and for the quality of our contributions. More worrying concerns lie in the future, especially if the KMT should regain power.

With agreements reached between PRC State Chairman and Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Hu Jintao with former KMT chairman Lien Chan and People First Party Chairman James Soong on their separate visits to Beijing in the spring, Beijing pushed for Taiwan to be allowed to participate in the World Health Organization under the denigrating moniker of "Taiwan, China," similar to that used for Hong Kong.

Such a pattern opens the alarming possibility that a new KMT regime would be willing to accept a position similar to Hong Kong or Macau for Taiwan in international organizations."

Under the DPP, Taiwan will resolutely not accept Beijing's "one China" principle, but the past and present record of the KMT and PFP, including the latter's proposal of a capitulationist "cross-strait peace promotion law," should remind us that efforts by our citizens and non-govermental groups as well as the DPP administration to secure a dignified role for Taiwan in the world community are at grave risk.

Source: Taiwan News Online