Taiwan seeks backing from Australia to join trade bloc

China, which wants to join trans-Pacific group too, opposes similar move by Taipei

SYDNEY • A Taiwan official has asked Australia to support its bid to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) trade pact - which China opposes - saying that Taipei can boost high technology trade flows and demand for Australian minerals.

Support for Taipei's bid would also "send a strong message" to Australian businesses affected by China's recent boycotts of the country's products, Taiwan's Economic and Cultural Office representative Elliott Charng told a Parliament committee in Australia's capital Canberra yesterday.

"Economic sanctions imposed on Australia by China reinforce the argument of engaging with Taiwan more closely and more deeply," Mr Charng said.

Each member of the 11-nation CPTPP has to approve new members.

The regional trade group, formed in 2018, comprises Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. It has received membership applications from Britain, China and Taiwan.

The bids by China and Taiwan in the past month have sparked tension, with Beijing opposing Taiwan's application, and Taipei accusing China of bullying.

China is Australia's largest trading partner, with exports reaching a record A$19.4 billion (S$19.4 billion) in July on the back of iron ore demand. But diplomatic ties have soured in recent years.

Australia was Taiwan's third-largest source of agricultural goods, worth US$607 million (S$823 million) last year, and the CPTPP would provide structure to do business and enhance cyber-security cooperation, said Mr Charng, who is Taiwan's de facto ambassador in Australia.

"The opposition from China is not unexpected. China will use every way to avoid Taiwan participating in any international organisations," he said.

China regards Taiwan as a renegade province awaiting reunification with the mainland, by force if necessary. Taiwan says it will defend its freedoms and democracy.

Meanwhile, China said on Monday that it had lodged stern representations with Australia over inappropriate comments by the country's former prime minister Tony Abbott, who last week visited Taiwan in a personal capacity, and met Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.

Mr Abbott told reporters in Taiwan that the island met the criteria for joining the CPTPP, but fear of upsetting China could cause some members to object to Taiwan's application. He urged countries to move beyond rhetorical support for Taiwan and provide practical support.

China has also lobbied the Australian Parliament committee to help it join the CPTPP, describing the strength of Chinese trade with Australia and avoiding mention of billions of dollars in punitive sanctions imposed by Beijing.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2021, with the headline 'Taiwan seeks backing from Australia to join trade bloc'. Subscribe