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Avoid marginalization by China, analysts urge

Taipei Times

Avoid marginalization by China, analysts urge

STAYING IN THE GAME: Since China is doing its best to keep Taiwan out of regional economic forums, the nation must pursue creative strategies

By Shih Hsiu-chuan, Staff Reporter

18 December 2005

While it’s too early to judge the prospects for the "pan-Asian" free trade community mentioned in the inaugural East Asia Summit (EAS), Taiwan, which has been excluded from participating, should devise a strategy to avoid being marginalized before it’s too late, analysts said.

The sixteen-member group, which includes the 10 members of ASEAN, plus China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India, represents half the world’s population and a fifth of global trade.

Although Taiwan is an east Asian country and has close trade ties with the community — the nation’s value of foreign trade with ASEAN+3 (including China, Japan and South Korea) countries for the first three quarters this year stood at about 60 percent of the total sum — Beijing’s clout in ASEAN and its insistence on the "one-China principle" have blocked Taiwan’s entry.

Lin Juo-yu, an associate professor at Tamkang University, said that the entry of Australia, New Zealand and India into the EAS enhanced the complexity of this regional mechanism compared to ASEAN+3, but at the same time diminished China’s influence.

She said that Taiwan should grasp the opportunity to develop its relations with the group’s individual members and gain access to the process of building the East Asian community, since China has been trying to strengthen its power in regional affairs at Taiwan’s expense.

"Otherwise, once the integration is completed in the group sometime in the future, Taiwan will face a tougher diplomatic predicament than it does today, since persuading one country to admit Taiwan is much less difficult than persuading the whole group," she said.

The government’s main strategy should be to sign bilateral agreements with Taiwan’s major trading partners, she said, adding that promoting mutual cooperation in developing technology and communication — areas in which Taiwan is strong — are also workable.

Aside from intensifying economic cooperation, Lin said that the nation should make use of other non-governmental channels such as Taiwanese businesspeople’s connections in Southeast Asian countries to deepen mutual relations.

China has stood in the way of Taiwan’s relations with other countries not only at the EAS but also in other bilateral relations, with Guo Jiann-jong, director of the Graduate Institute of Mainland Studies at Tamkang University, saying that China has been the main obstacle.

"While Taiwan has already completed the FTA [Free Trade Agreement] consultation process with countries such as Singapore, Australia and New Zealand [which are all members of EAS], the final conclusion is yet to be reached due to Beijing’s objection," he said.

Since Beijing’s intention to exclude Taiwan from regional integration is not likely to change, Taiwan should actively promote global free trade and the establishment of bilateral free trade agreements with its trading partners, said Tung Chen-yuan, an assistant professor of National Chengchi University.

Tung regards the East Asian Community as an opportunity, rather than a threat, to Taiwan as long as the nation can use the community as a chance to promote global free trade.