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Chinese opposition not a concern of U.S.-Taiwan FTA: scholar

Focus Taiwan News Channel, Taiwan

Chinese opposition not a concern of U.S.-Taiwan FTA: scholar

By Chou Yung-chieh and Christie Chen

4 August 2011

Washington, Aug. 3 (CNA) The real barrier to the signing of a free trade agreement (FTA) between the U.S. and Taiwan is not China’s opposition, but American disinterest and Taiwanese protectionism, a research fellow of the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation said Wednesday.

Derek Scissors said during a panel discussion in Washington, D.C. that as long as economic relations between Taiwan and China continue to proceed well, there should be little chance of Chinese opposition to a U.S.-Taiwan FTA.

The discussion was organized by the Center for National Policy, a U.S. think tank, to discuss the future of U.S.-Taiwan relations and the prospects for peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

The Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) signed between Taiwan and China is tilted in Taiwan’ favor for political reasons, according to Scissors, who added that he does not see an appetite on Taiwan’s part for a "real" FTA with the U.S.

Scissors also described the bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) between the U.S. and Taiwan as a "disaster," saying that it is dispensable and that trade relations will continue to be strong between the two sides without it.

Lu Yeh-chung, an assistant professor of the Department of Diplomacy at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University, however, called on the U.S. to restart TIFA negotiations with Taiwan, saying that TIFA carries not only economic but also political implications.

Renewed TIFA talks — which were suspended as a result of the U.S.-Taiwan beef dispute — would assure the Taiwanese public of U.S. support, said Lu.

He said Taiwan has been seeking to play the role of peacemaker, humanitarian aid-provider and defender of democracy in the Asia-Pacific region and that its is in the interests of the U.S. for Taiwan to assume these roles.

Lu said Taiwan and the U.S. have close economic and trade relations, evident in the fact that Taiwan is the 10th-largest trading partner of the U.S., the 13th-largest market for U.S. exports and the 6th-largest market for U.S. agricultural exports.

Lu also called on the U.S. to sell arms to Taiwan to help Taiwan gain leverage with China in negotiations.

In addition, he urged the U.S. to send Cabinet-level officials to Taiwan to help the Taiwanese public feel U.S. support, and to arrange exchange programs for young people of both countries so that the friendship between Taiwan and the U.S. can be passed on to the next generation.

On the issue of Taiwan-China relations, meanwhile, Robert Sutter, a professor of Asian studies at the Elliott School of International Affairs of George Washington University, said that although positive cross-strait relations are likely to continue, Taiwan’s freedom of action is "eroding to the point where Taiwan cannot go back."

Sutter said China’s growing influence over Taiwan and the erosion of U.S. support for Taiwan limits the country’s freedom of action.

But he also said that Taiwan has few options other than to continue its engagement with China.

In response, Lu said that although closer cross-strait relations could constrain Taiwan’s future, they will also put some constraints on China’s government, which could also be seeking to prevent a reversal of the current positive relations.