Taiwan keen to join trans-Pacific trade pact and world bodies like WHO

Countries will benefit if Taiwan is party to multilateral free trade agreements. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

TOKYO - Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu emphasised the island's wish to join the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal on Thursday (June 3), while urging friendly democracies to support its bid to join global institutions such as the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Countries will benefit if Taiwan is party to multilateral free trade agreements, since Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is the world's largest semiconductor manufacturer, Dr Wu said in an online news conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan.

Semiconductors are increasingly seen as vital to the economy as well as national security, and microchips power technology from smartphones to automobiles.

Estimates show that Taiwan now holds more than 90 per cent of the global output capacity for advanced chips up to 10 nanometres in size, and Japan plans to launch a public-private sector facility with TSMC in the city of Tsukuba, north-east of Tokyo.

This is but one way Taiwan considers Japan as a close friend and neighbour. It has leaned on Japan's influence in such global frameworks as the Group of Seven (G-7), the Quad grouping, and as the largest economy and this year's chair of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

Japan broke with its own diplomatic tradition to cite "peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait" in summit statements with the United States and European Union. It has also been one of the most vocal advocates for Taiwan to take part in the WHO assembly.

And to reciprocate Taiwan's generosity when the island supplied Japan with 2 million face masks amid a shortage in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, Tokyo, according to public broadcaster NHK, is sending 1.2 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines to Taiwan possibly "as soon as Friday".

Yet, experts have pointed to limits in what Japan is realistically able to do without incurring the wrath of China, even as Tokyo prepares for any contingency by shoring up its military assets in its south-western island chain and by pitching its vision of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific.

Dr Madoka Fukuda of Hosei University in Tokyo noted constraints to deepening cooperative Japan-Taiwan relations in a policy paper published by the US-based Stimson Centre, even as Covid-19 has catalysed a slight shift in Tokyo's policies towards Beijing.

"Japan's foreign policy still aims to maintain good economic relations with China, while also keeping good relations with the United States," she said.

China has also expressed interest in joining the CPTPP, which presents another potential hurdle for Taiwan's entry. Accession will require the unanimous support of all 11 CPTPP members.

China regards Taiwan as a renegade breakaway province and Dr Wu, speaking on the eve of the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, denounced the 'One Country Two Systems' model mooted by Beijing in the event of unification.

He cited the erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong since the enactment of a national security law, with elected officials barred from taking office, saying that this was against the spirit of democracy upheld by Taiwan.

"Taiwan is not part of China, and insofar as this is the reality, we want to safeguard this status quo where Taiwan is not invaded nor ruled by the Communist regime in China," Dr Wu said.

"We don't really anticipate that conflict or war is going to break out any time soon, but we are trying to get ourselves ready. Whether the war is going to take place tomorrow, or six years later or 10 years later, we need to prepare ourselves," he added.

He also called on democratic countries to deter "authoritarian aggression" through non-traditional security threats like disinformation campaigns and other "grey-zone tactics" waged to undermine trust between the Taiwanese and their elected government.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.