- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 6, 2000

Now that China has all but won admission to the World Trade Organization (WTO), Beijing has abruptly upped the ante. Flouting an existing understanding that Taiwan would become an independent member of the WTO, last week Beijing began insisting that its claim to sovereignty over Taiwan be recognized at the trade organization.

China's last-minute power grab should come as no surprise. Many experts who support China's entry into the WTO have long expected Beijing would try to use the trade organization as a vehicle for bolstering control over Taiwan. The regime saw its chance last week, when protocol agreements that define the terms under which China will join the WTO were being drawn. Beijing said its "one-China" policy should be reflected in these documents.

U.S. Trade Ambassador Rita Hayes quickly responded by saying the United States opposes China's latest efforts to enshrine its "one-China" policy at the WTO. But China's chief negotiator, Long Yongtu, hinted that perhaps a compromise could be reached, claiming the situation "shouldn't be dramatized."

But after having negotiated for 13 arduous years to join the global trade organization, China's bid to block Taiwan's sovereignty at the WTO is dramatic. China had informally agreed in 1992 that Taiwan would be allowed to enter the trade organization as a separate economic entity; as a courtesy to Beijing, Taiwan wouldn't enter the WTO until right after China had gained admission.

Some unfortunate comments that President Clinton made in 1998 may be partly to blame, noted Larry Wortzell, a China expert for the Heritage Foundation. While in Shanghai, Mr. Clinton said, "We don't believe that Taiwan should be a member in any organization for which statehood is a requirement."

Given Mrs. Hayes' defense of Taiwan's independence at the WTO, it would appear Mr. Clinton's statement was a slip of the tongue, and doesn't reflect overall White House policy. But since it was delivered by the president, it's easy to see why the Chinese would infer from them a lack of U.S. resolve to defend Taiwan's relative autonomy.

The White House should now unequivocally reaffirm Mrs. Hayes' rejection of a "one-China" policy at the WTO. Mr. Clinton might start by working hard to get WTO members nations' actions to support Taiwan.

China's entrance to the WTO has been supported on the grounds that it would lead to an eventual Chinese perestroika. Acceding to demands for a "one-China" policy at the WTO risks just the opposite, and the WTO should reject them.

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