Monday, October 29, 2007

The Case for Taiwan-U.S. Free Trade

Free Trade has for some time been a driving force behind United States foreign relations and the role many Americans envision for their nation in the twenty-first century. Scholars, economists, innovators and businessmen and women envision a global marketplace where trade barriers have been drastically lowered or eliminated altogether; where products are more easily distributed worldwide and exchanged freely internationally as well as domestically.

Free trade, of course, is not an idea that has arrived without protest. There are concerns that unique cultures and the identities of underdeveloped nations will fall prey to the larger international market, as purveyors of locally produced goods are driven out of business by large corporations producing similar goods for less elsewhere. Yet when two modern and industrially developed nations engage each other in free trade, there cannot be much doubt that the relationship is beneficial for both.In this light, there is much to gain and little to lose when it comes to a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the United States and Taiwan.

Proponents of such a bilateral international deal on both sides of the Pacific have brought forth various proposals for a Taiwan-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, or TUFTA. Beginning in 2001 with the introduction of a bill by Senator Max Baucus of Montana (D) entitled, “United States-Taiwan Free Trade Agreement Act of 2001,” members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have increasingly sought to hammer out a finalized version of TUFTA for approval by the governments of the United States and Taiwan.

Most recently, on May 1, 2007, House Concurrent Resolution 137 was introduced by Congresswoman Shelley Berkley of Nevada (D) on behalf of herself and Congressmen Jim Ramstad (R-MN), Robert Wexler (D-FL), Steve Chabot (R-OH) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). The bill would express “the sense of the Congress that the United States should increase trade opportunities with Taiwan by launching negotiations without delay to enter into a free trade agreement with Taiwan.” H. Con. Res. 137 currently has 27 cosponsors and is awaiting action by the House Subcommittee on Trade.

We believe that a Free Trade Agreement between Taiwan and the United States is an important next step in preserving and strengthening the economic and strategic alliance between Taiwan and the United States. Taiwan is a natural economic hub for the East Asia and Pacific region, and by negotiating lower trade barriers, the U.S. government will secure an arrangement in which American firms will be better able to access supply chains throughout the region (including in China) by participating in Taiwan’s marketplace. Taiwan too will benefit by increasing the level of bilateral trade with its fourth largest trading partner and introducing American influence and competition into its large yet underdeveloped domestic services sector.

Taiwan already heavily imports quality U.S. agricultural goods such as beef, fruits, and nuts, and these imports would expand under lower tariff rates. Taiwan’s consumers would benefit from lower overall prices while American farmers, ranchers and growers would benefit from an expanded market for their products. In short, the current proposal for TUFTA would enhance and catalyze an already symbiotic economic relationship.Every year that passes without the creation of a United States-Taiwan Free Trade Agreement represents a massive missed opportunity worth billions of U.S. dollars in terms of bilateral trade and the strengthening of commercial networks in the western Pacific Rim.

As the United States continues to expand its international Free Trade portfolio, we can only hope that TUFTA appears at or near the top of the list.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Not Quite Beating Swords into Ploughshares, but. . .

. . . turning old artillery shells into top quality knives is also a good idea.

Here's an interesting feature story in the latest edition of Taiwan Journal, which explores the world of a master knifemaker on the island of Kinmen.

We could hardly believe reading this article that the PRC once ran a propoganda campaign by actually shelling the island of Kinmen with artillery rounds full of printed material in the '60s (the knifemaker uses metal from these old shells as material to make the knives). It doesn't take a particularly bright individual to realize that the target propoganda audience isn't going to take much interest in your pro-Communist literature when you just put a shell through the roof of their house, apparently without much concern for the welfare of that reader's family or neighbors. Whatever happened to the good old-fashioned method of dropping leaflets out of a plane or even unmanned hot-air balloons? Way to be, PRC.

Reporting We Like

Kudos to the AP for running a pretty fair and balanced article on cross-Strait relations. We read it today on the International Herald-Tribune's website. It concerns Taipei's response to a PRC offer for negotiations on a peace accord. The text follows:

TAIPEI, Taiwan: Taiwan on Monday rejected a call by Chinese President Hu Jintao for a formal peace accord between the two rivals, saying it lacked any significance.

Government spokesman Shieh Jhy-wey's comments came several hours after Hu told a major Communist Party meeting that Beijing favored a peaceful, negotiated settlement to the 58-year-old conflict, provided Taiwan accepts that it is a part of China.

Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949. The "one-China principle" has formed the basis of Beijing's policy toward the self-ruled island ever since.

In Taiwan's first official reaction to Hu's comments, Shieh said that the Chinese leader's invitation "was devoid of any significance whatsoever."

"We will not discuss peace, unification, or any other issues with a regime that has suppressed the Tibetans, killed its own people and supported the military junta of Myanmar," he said.

Taiwan frequently castigates Beijing for its human rights policies, including its support for military or dictatorial governments abroad.

Emphasizing the differences between the two, Shieh said that Taiwan is founded on human rights and democracy, while China's ruling Communist Party does not represent the will of its own people.

"China is threatening Taiwan with war," he added, referring to Beijing's promises to attack the island of 23 million people if it makes it de facto independence permanent.

Though Taiwan's government once vowed to reunite with the mainland, over the past several years it has emphasized its separate identity, drawing threats from Beijing to use the military option.

Hu warned in his speech that Taiwan's independence forces were "stepping up their secessionist activities," jeopardizing chances for peace between the two sides. He said people in China and Taiwan should work to "oppose and constrain such activities" and offered to work with any political parties in Taiwan as long as they agreed that Taiwan was part of China.

Beijing is particularly worried that with Taiwan's next presidential election due in March and the Beijing Olympics in August, Taiwanese leaders might be tempted to test the limits of China's tolerance. Last month, Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party passed a resolution calling for a referendum on Taiwan's sovereignty.

President Chen Shui-bian has also pushed for Taiwan's entry into the United Nations under its own name, rather than its formal title of the Republic of China, which connotes fealty to the one China policy.

This reporter took the time to explain Taiwan's valid grievances concerning the lack of human rights and democracy in China under the PRC regime, rather than painting an all-too-common loose sketch of the situation that leaves Taiwan's government looking like a stubborn and naïve agitator. One can hardly imagine criticizing Taiwan for being an island that "frequently castigates Beijing for its human rights policies, including its support for military or dictatorial governments abroad."

The only thing we could see that might be worth knit-picking over is this sentence: "Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949." Perhaps the unfamiliar reader would interpret this to mean that the civil war was simply a matter of Taiwan seceeding from China or, even worse, the PRC the same way states in the American South attempted to seceed from the Union during the American Civil War. Perhaps a better sentence would be: "China and Taiwan split at the end of civil war on the mainland in 1949," or, if the writer can afford the extra real estate: "In 1949 at the end of the China's civil war, the Nationalists fled to Taiwan, maintaining there a seperate government from the PRC in Beijing."

These two suggestions seem to better convey the historical reality--although we can hardly claim to be seasoned hands concerning Taiwan-PRC relations If any one of our readers can think of a better line for the press, please feel free to post it in the comments section!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Beijing in '08: No Issue Irrelevant

Today's “World News” section of the Washington Post contained an article on the Chinese government’s attempt to disassociate all international political controversies involving the People’s Republic of China from the Beijing Olympics. As reported in the article, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in the United States, “argued against efforts by activists to link participation in the Beijing-based 2008 Summer Olympics to China’s handling of Burma,” calling the issue of Burma and other regions such as Darfur “irrelevant.”

Our message to the PRC?
Good luck with that.

It would seem that the import of hosting the Olympic Games, the quadrennial international match of skill, dexterity and strength that dates back to ancient Greece, was lost on the folks in Beijing when they put in their bid for ’08. Let us look at some of the reasons why it is folly to believe that a host country’s diplomatic posture should not be altered; can even avoid alteration, during the run-up and actual passage of the Games:

1) The Olympics are about humanity.
Hosting the Olympics is a terribly attractive prospect for any government, because the successful preparation for the Olympic Games and the cultural events and security apparatus that come along with them represents an excellent chance for a government to exhibit its logistical, economic, and visionary capabilities, while at the same time displaying before the world the unique cultural identity of its citizens.
Yet along with this privilege comes great responsibility. As the world’s all-inclusive global sporting event, in their most basic sense the Olympic Games are about humankind testing of the capacities and physical limits of the human body. They are about the strength and vigor of our species. So the question the “live” or at-home spectator will inevitably ask about the host country when humanity itself is so prominently being paraded before the world public is, “What has this country done for the betterment of humanity lately?” In the case of China under the leadership of the PRC government the answer is, of course, “nothing much.”

2) The Olympics are also about equality.
The Olympics—unlike the United Nations these days—are inextricably founded upon the principle that all may participate. It is the reason the Jamaicans famously once placed a bobsled team in competition. It is also the reason why even athletes from a country as isolated as Taiwan are not and cannot be prohibited from competing on an athletically—if not politically—equal playing field with athletes from everywhere else. The Games are based on the premise that we are equal and born with inherent gifts and abilities, and that those among us with the greatest athletic abilities have the right, even the duty, to compete with their peers to push the physical limits of human strength and endurance.

3) ergo: the Olympics are about democracy.
It is no coincidence that the tradition of the Olympic Games originated in the Greek city-state remembered as the world’s first democracy. The Olympics are inherently democratic. During the Games, athletes and fans depart from every corner of the globe to converge on a single venue—to meet one another and test their common strength, weakness, and mettle via controlled competition. Ideas are exchanged, philosophies are expounded through the language of sport, and all are invited to participate. Humankind’s strength is reaffirmed through the celebration of both teamwork and individuality. These factors were no less intrinsic and valuable at the first Olympics in ancient Athens, although to the Athenians of the day the world was much, much smaller.

These three statements—that the Olympics are about humanity, equality, and therefore democracy—are, of course, rather idealistic in nature. But if there is one thing that is so blatantly obvious about the Olympics that might as well be taped to the bottom of a frying pan and repeatedly banged over one’s head, it is that these Games are about ideals. They have always been about a ideals, they always will be, and any nation that plans to host the Games should understand that its government, culture, and people will be scrutinized through the lens of those ideals. It is our personal belief that, in the case of China, the culture and the people will stand admirably up to Olympic scrutiny. China’s government on the other hand, will likely be found in relation to these ideals tragically lacking.