Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - Pro-Taiwan campaigners have welcomed a strong call by House of Representatives Majority Leader Tom DeLay for the U.S. to prioritize negotiations for a free-trade agreement with Taiwan.
Not only would an FTA be good for Taiwan by lessening its economic dependency on mainland China, but it would also enable the U.S. to strengthen its political and strategic influence in Asia, Wu Li-pei, chairman of the Los Angeles-based Formosa Foundation, said Wednesday.
Speaking from Washington, Wu said he had been surprised and pleased at the strength of DeLay's support for Taiwan and for a U.S.-Taiwan FTA.
In an address Monday at a conference hosted by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), DeLay said Congress would increase pressure "on those that may be dragging their feet, particularly at the State Department" to pursue an FTA with Taiwan.
He said free trade would bring both countries economic benefits, but that was not the only reason for supporting it.
"We support free trade with Taiwan because that's what democratic allies do."
DeLay called communist China "a backward, corrupt anachronism run by decrepit tyrants" and said the U.S. had never, and would never, recognize "Beijing's territorial claim over Taiwan."
He said the "one China" policy had been frequently and willfully misinterpreted. The idea of a communist takeover of Taiwan should be inconceivable.
"The notion that these oppressive and dangerous men could convince the United States that their murderous ideology should be imposed on a free and independent Taiwan is absurd.
"And refusing to say so, for fear of upsetting Beijing, is not tact; it is infantilism."
Formosa Foundation chairman Wu on Wednesday praised DeLay's stance, which he said was in line with his own.
Not entering an FTA with Taiwan, on top of not recognizing it politically, was "double penalizing" the island nation, Wu said.
In the absence of an FTA with the U.S., Taiwan's economic dependence on mainland China would only intensify, he said. Already, China is Taiwan's largest export market.
Wu said the U.S., too, would become more dependent on China, as would the wider region.
"China then becomes a factory for the entire world, and that's not good for anybody."
Wu said any hurdles in the way of U.S.-Taiwan free trade were political, not economic.
Taiwan is the eighth-largest trading partner of the U.S., while the U.S. is Taiwan's second-largest export market.
Washington has FTAs with Canada, Mexico, Singapore, Israel and Jordan, and is in talks with Chile, Australia, Morocco and a group of five Central American countries.
According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, Taiwan's total trade with the U.S. exceeds that of any of those countries, except for Canada and Mexico.
There are no moves underway by the office of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick to open talks with Taiwan.
The bilateral trade relationship has been marred by concerns about intellectual property rights (IPR), with Taiwan placed on a copyright piracy priority watch list.
Although IPR protection has been cited as a hurdle to be addressed before any further progress is made on an FTA, Wu said it was precisely issues like IPR that strengthened the case for a free trade deal.
"We have to engage, rather than just say, 'because there are these issues, we don't want to deal with you.' That's not the way to do business."
Wu conceded that China would do all in its power to try to stymie an FTA, but said he did not envisage the U.S. allowing China to dictate its foreign policy.
Recent anti-Taiwan moves by China demonstrated for the world to see how "unreasonable" the regime in Beijing was, he said.
China recently blocked Taiwan's bid to get observer status at the World Health Organization's annual session in Geneva. Taiwan says China is also trying to have its permanent mission status at the World Trade Organization downgraded.
In his address, DeLay said that President Bush clearly understood that "America's blossoming relationship with Taiwan -- from our security commitments to the prospects of free trade -- is part and parcel of the war on terror."
However, his tough comments on China contrasted with the tone of the president as he met Chinese president Hu Jintao in France at the weekend.
Reports quoting Bush as telling Hu that the U.S. did not support Taiwanese independence prompted government ministers and officials in Taipei to say the comment was "routine" and did not represent any shift in policy.
Wu said Wednesday he was saddened to hear Bush's reported comment, but cautioned that he did not know the background or context.
A statement that the U.S. doesn't support Taiwanese independence could also be read as saying it didn't necessarily oppose it, he pointed out.
At a news briefing in Beijing Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue responded to questions on DeLay's remarks and the free trade issue by saying that a U.S. government spokesman "would be better equipped to explain this issue."
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