- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2000

TAIPEI, Taiwan Taiwan looks forward to joining the World Trade Organization alongside China and believes their joint entry would help greatly to ease tensions between them, Foreign Minister Chen Chien-jen said in an interview.
"There is no question that our relations across the [Taiwan] strait will be better as far as talks go once both of us are in WTO," Mr. Chen told The Washington Times just days before a presidential election that has driven cross-strait tensions to their highest point in years.
Taiwan, whose economy measures up to world standards better than China's, is routinely barred from most international organizations because of Beijing's insistence that it is a province of China and can only be represented by the mainland government.
But the United States and Japan pressed China, as part of the negotiations for Beijing's entry into the WTO, to agree to Taiwan's entry immediately after its own, which could come later this year.
Some experts remain skeptical that China and Taiwan will both make it into the WTO. China must still negotiate agreements with the European Union and a few other countries, and its entry would be complicated if the U.S. Congress votes this spring to deny it permanent trading status.
"Taiwan has been burned before on this kind of thing," said Richard R. Vuylsteke, executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei, which has more than 1,000 members.
"We don't see China's entry as a given at this stage, and I'm dubious over any Beijing pledge to let Taipei in the WTO," he said.
But Mr. Chen said in the interview he was confident that Taiwan would easily follow China into the trading group.
"There is no question about Taiwan's admission after that of China," he said. "We have passed the requirements and signed 26 [bilateral] agreements, all except with Hong Kong. And Hong Kong is part of China so that is pending."
Mr. Chen added: "Taiwan, after all, is the world's 15th leading trading nation."
The jockeying over Chinese entry into the WTO has become wrapped up in tensions over Taiwan's presidential election on Saturday, with Beijing issuing repeated threats that sent Taiwan's stock market into a record-breaking downward spiral.
China has often said it would invade if Taiwan were to declare independence. Recent threats have been seen as a bid to frighten voters away from a leading pro-independence candidate.
In Beijing yesterday, Prime Minister Zhu Rongji kept up the pressure for passage in Washington of the bill granting China permanent trade status.
He described the landmark pact on WTO terms between the United States and China as "a solemn agreement between two governments."
"Both governments have the responsibility to see that this agreement is passed by both congresses," he told reporters following the annual session of the National People's Congress, China's parliament.
Mr. Zhu said that if the members of Congress "exercise their wisdom and good reason," the bill will be passed.
If not, he said, "Maybe hundreds of years or even a thousand years later, when the American people open up the past records of history, they may see what a mistake the United States has made."
Taiwan companies have been setting up offices at major Chinese port cities since 1994, looking forward to the day when trade goods can be shipped directly between the longtime rivals.
So far, billions of dollars in textiles, computer parts and other goods must pass through Hong Kong or other third-country ports on their way from Taiwan to China.
But many Taiwanese businessmen, who see President Lee Teng-hui as an obstacle to better relations with China, hope the winner of Saturday's presidential election will be more eager to expand trade with the mainland.
Dual membership in the WTO would force both China and Taiwan to remove most barriers to trade.
"The trend is toward opening up, and we are all ready for it," said Chen Shih-chia, a spokeswoman for Taiwanese shipping giant Evergreen Marine.
Despite the political tensions that have flared this month, a survey by Taiwan's Economics Ministry reported that China, with its vast market and low costs, is the most favored overseas investment spot for Taiwan companies.
In recent years, Taiwanese have invested more than $35 billion in China. Many send spare parts from Taiwan to their factories on the mainland, where finished products are shipped to the United States or other foreign markets.
Bilateral trade totaled $25.8 billion last year, up 8 percent from 1998.
Lobbied hard by businesses that want a bigger piece of the mainland market, all three main presidential hopefuls have promised to ease trade restrictions and lift the shipping ban if Taiwan's security is not compromised.

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