Taiwan sees Biden’s political fears weaken US strategy to counter China

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Taipei, Taiwan – President Joe Biden’s fear of a political backlash against trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership is undermining his strategy to counter China and support Taiwan, Taiwan analysts and policymakers say.

“It undermines the credibility of the United States as the leader of the economic order that it is in fact trying to recreate in this region,” said Roy Chun Lee, senior expert on global trade at the Chung-Hua Institution for Economics. Research, a Taiwanese government think tank. “It might be a good idea for the Biden administration to reconsider its position later. This would solve its own problem and also solve our problem.

Biden has made economic concerns a centerpiece of the US effort to organize an “alliance of democracies” to counter threats from China, an effort galvanized in part by Beijing’s influence over key supply chains and the the regime’s use of economic sanctions to punish countries that make political decisions. positions he opposes. Yet Biden has stopped coming back to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which former President Donald Trump quit following a presidential campaign that featured intense opposition to such deals from both parties.

“The Trump administration has decided to pull out of this TPP initiative, and that sent a signal to countries in the region that the United States was leaving [the] Indo-Pacific,” said Dr. Lo Chih-cheng, chairman of the Taiwanese legislature’s foreign affairs and national defense committee. Washington Examiner Monday during an interview in his office. “It is a bad signal to the countries of the region that the United States is giving its leadership, its economic leadership, to Japan or even to China.”

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Japan, filling the diplomatic role left by the United States, persuaded the other members of the pact to stick to the plan. They signed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, a revised version of the original agreement that suspended some of the most important provisions for the United States while leaving the door open for a possible American return. U.S. and Japanese officials have coordinated a major move to protect Beijing’s high-tech semiconductor supply chain, but even Japanese officials who view the effort as an “epoch-making” initiative want the U.S. return to the pact.

“Now that the United States is gone, China is applying for the CPTPP, and the question is how we will try to achieve the strategic vision of the TPP,” Japanese Ambassador to the United States Koji Tomita said. .
Bloomberg last month. “And there is no quick response because we recognize the political constraints you have in terms of returning to the TPP.”

China and Taiwan have submitted separate applications to join the grouping, but Taiwanese officials say China would violate various requirements imposed under the deal. They hope joining the bloc will make them less vulnerable to pressure from Beijing.

“We need to reduce our dependence on China because China is not a normal trading partner,” Lo said. “China can use [economic ties] as a means of increasing its political influence on Taiwan.

Taiwan authorities are trying to demonstrate that they are eligible to be admitted to the trade deal, but their bid has been undermined by political pressure from Beijing. Chinese Communist Party officials claim sovereignty over Taiwan, which they have never governed, and argue that accepting Taiwan into a regional trade deal would violate their position that “Taiwan cannot be separated from China”.

Taiwan being the last refuge of the government overthrown in the Chinese Communist Revolution, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen is careful to maintain that Taiwan is an independent country without asserting that independence in terms that would provoke a Chinese invasion.

The communist regime hopes to bring Taipei under its control through economic or political means, but Chinese officials reserve the right to use military force against island democracy. Still, Japanese officials support the Taiwanese bid, even though they don’t have official diplomatic ties with Taipei, and Taiwanese officials hope other pact members will find security in numbers despite their concerns about putting Beijing angry.

“It’s a good alternative because when we talk about bilateral trade deals, there are political sensitivities,” Taiwanese Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Yui told reporters last week. “But when you reach an agreement between eight, 12, 13 countries with Taiwan, you share the sensitivities with other countries, so in fact, it is a very good alternative to signing these bilateral trade agreements.”

Yui and Lee, the trade expert, addressed a group of journalists invited by the Taiwanese government for a series of meetings designed to amplify Taipei’s case for joining the CPTPP. Taiwanese officials want members of the trading bloc to ignore China’s protests when considering their candidacy, a task made harder when they cannot ‘share sensitivities’ with the United States

“The United States is not a member of the CPTPP, so it is very difficult for the United States to defend Taiwan’s membership in this type of regional economic framework,” said Lo, the Taiwanese lawmaker.

Biden has set himself the goal of proving that “the United States is deeply invested in the Indo-Pacific,” but his administration’s efforts have been limited by an apparent desire to avoid exposing it to attacks from the type of those Trump launched against “Obamatrade” in 2016. Secretary of State Antony Blinken began his tenure as the nation’s top diplomat with a mea culpa for past failures in trade talks.

“We haven’t done enough to understand who would be adversely affected and what would be needed to adequately compensate for their pain or to implement the agreements that were already on the books and help more workers and small businesses to fully benefit,” Blinken said in his first major speech last year. “Our approach will now be different.”

This difference was visible in May, when Biden visited Tokyo to launch the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity. This 13-economy format was organized in line with Biden’s statement that “the future of the 21st century economy is going to be largely written in the Indo-Pacific – in our region.” And yet, neither this “framework” nor a parallel dialogue launched between the United States and Taiwan contains measures that would lower tariffs or take similar steps to lower barriers to trade between the countries – a US choice perceived in Taiwan as a case of Biden’s political needs getting ahead of his strategic priorities.

“It’s a reflection of the fact that Congress and industry in the United States, right now, they don’t like the idea of ​​free trade agreements,” Lee told the Washington Examiner. “They think market access [trade agreements] is one of the reasons why there is a kind of recess [the] US manufacturing sector. So they would like to bring manufacturing back, rather than push them [to go] offshore, and so they don’t like the idea.

Lo views such deference to “national concerns” as a myopic failure to persuade voters that a trade deal helps them.

“To open a market there are costs, but there are also benefits,” he said. “You have to tell people that [there may be] short-term costs, but there will be long-term gains. The problem is that in the short term you have to face re-election and elections, so it’s very difficult for leaders around the world, not just in the United States.

Lee believes Biden will be more willing to broker trade deals in a second term if he retains the presidency in the 2024 election.

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“Of course it’s a dynamic process,” he said. “At this point there is very limited support for the market entry point. So you have to be patient. »

Over time, Lo suggested, the IPEF could evolve into a new type of trans-Pacific partnership — should Biden pursue a suitable trade deal. “But they don’t use the term ‘TPP’,” he said. “So we don’t yet know what IPEF really means.”

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