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Taiwan Appeals to U.S. Not to Forget Its Desire for Free Trade Deal

INTERNATIONAL: Taiwan's top trade negotiator appealed to the United States on Tuesday (June 7) not to forget that the island wants a free trade deal, but understands this will not happen immediately and is willing to make other agreements first as "building blocks".

Taiwan and the United States last week announced the new U.S.-Taiwan Initiative on 21st-Century Trade, which envisages new trade talks.

John Deng, who goes to Washington at the end of the month for talks with senior U.S. officials, told Reuters in an interview that ultimately what they wanted was a free trade agreement, even if the U.S. government has not publicly said such a deal is on the cards.

Taiwan has long campaigned for such a deal, in what would be a strong show of support for the Chinese-claimed island in the face of unrelenting diplomatic and military pressure from Beijing, and says it is a reliable partner with shared democratic values.

Taiwan also wants to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), and applied to do so in September. China has also applied, and says it opposes Taiwan joining.

Deng said Taiwan would have to wait for Britain's more advanced application to be approved first before member states -- Canada, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam -- would consider Taiwan.

But he said he did not think the CPTPP should have to follow the World Trade Organization model, whereby both Taiwan and China joined at the same time, to avoid any potentially thorny political issues favouring either party.

While Taiwan's main opposition party the Kuomintang (KMT) says it is wrong to label Taiwan's main opposition party as being pro-China as it has always been pro-U.S. and is dedicated to defending the island though also to talking to Beijing, its chairman said in Washington.

The KMT ruled China until fleeing to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war to the Communists. It has traditionally favoured close ties with Beijing, which has increasingly set it at odds with most Taiwanese, who feel little in common with autocratic China.

The KMT badly lost presidential and parliamentary elections in 2020, having failed to shake accusations from the governing Democratic Progressive Party it would sell out Taiwan to Beijing.

Speaking late Monday Taipei time at the Brookings Institution during a visit to Washington, KMT Chairman Eric Chu decried those who call them pro-China.

"We are mislabelled by some people, some media says we are a pro-China party - it's totally wrong. We are a pro-U.S. party, forever," he said, speaking in English.

Taiwan needs to have strong defences, added Chu, who assumed his current role in September on a promise to revitalise party fortunes.

"If you want peace, you have to prepare for war. Self-defence is the number one for peace and stability."

He reiterated the party's support for engagement with China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, to ensure stability.

Beijing has ramped up its military activities near Taiwan over the past two years or so, and refused to speak to Tsai who it views as a separatist.

Tsai says they want talks with Beijing, but as equals, and that only Taiwan's people can decide their own future.

Chu said Taiwan can help the West better understand China, and be a model for its giant neighbour.

"Taiwan can have democracy, why not China some day? We have to wait for this to happen, but we need Taiwan as a model."


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