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Taiwan should join China-led RCEP instead of CPTPP: TPP's Ko

11/29/2023 09:30 PM
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CNA photo Nov. 29, 2023
CNA photo Nov. 29, 2023

Taipei, Nov. 29 (CNA) Taiwan is "not yet ready" to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and should instead lobby to be part of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) by initiating talks with China, Taiwan People's Party (TPP) presidential candidate Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) said on Wednesday.

The criteria for joining the CPTPP not only require that Taiwan lower tariffs but also meet stringent information security and labor rights requirements, for which Taiwan is "not yet ready," Ko said at an economic forum held by nine of the country's major business and commercial groups.

In addition, Ko said that while Taiwan and China are both applying to join the CPTPP, China will likely lobby the existing 12 signatories to veto Taiwan's entry into the bloc.

Entering the RCEP, meanwhile, is relatively easy and would also solve some of Taiwan's economic problems; therefore Taiwan should feel confident in kickstarting negotiations with China regarding its inclusion in the bloc, which could be possible if cross-strait tensions alleviate, the TPP chairman said.

"There is no going southbound without first addressing the issues of going westbound first, and we should all be aware of this," he said.

Eyeing warmer cross-strait ties

Ko stressed the importance of thawing the icy relations and resuming interactions with China, when asked by a forum participant what he would do differently if elected in a bid to resolve the current impasse across the Strait.

Beijing, which sees Taiwan as an inalienable part of its territory, suspended interactions with Taipei when the pro-Taiwan independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) became Taiwan's ruling party in 2016.

He would engage in dialogue with China and the United States without giving either major power any "surprises," Ko said.

So-called cross-strait relations, he said, are actually the "Taiwan issue" of the U.S.-China rivalry, which Taiwan must navigate its way through.

In dealing with China, Ko said, "The Democratic Progressive Party [DPP]is overly alert, and the Kuomintang [KMT] is too relaxed. The TPP will seek to find that middle point, to be alert but not overly so."

He said he would ensure China understands that sovereignty and cross-strait peace are its "bottom lines" and based on this prerequisite, "What you [China] want to hear me say, I'll say in a sentence or two… and what you don't want me to say, I'll try not to say it."

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken once said of the relationship between the U.S. and China that the two nations would "compete with confidence, cooperate wherever we can, and contest where we must," which he believed was also a good model for Taiwan regarding its interactions with China, Ko noted.

The nuclear energy debate

Speaking on the nation's perceived energy shortage, Ko said that he was in favor of extending the service life of the Maanshan Nuclear Power Plant in Pingtung County, which is scheduled to be de-commissioned in May 2025.

Although he acknowledged that a thorough check-up of the shuttered Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei's Gongliao District was required, Ko said it would be difficult to keep the plant sealed forever, given the country's pressing need to cut carbon emissions to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 to prevent Taiwanese companies from being charged steep carbon tariffs.

The Cabinet ordered a safety inspection of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in 2011, in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The Ministry of Economic Affairs in July 2014 announced that the safety inspection report deemed the nuclear power plant to be "safe."

However, the Atomic Energy Council (AEC) in August of that year cited 23 "inconclusive" and nine additional items still pending follow-up information from state-run Taiwan Power Co.

The issues prevented the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant from receiving the permit for the use of fuel rods and led the AEC to declare the plant had failed to meet safety standards on numerous occasions over the years.

He said that he was in favor of gradually phasing out nuclear energy while efforts are being made to boost the amount of renewable energy in the country's energy mix, rather than attempting to eliminate it outright.

Meanwhile, Ko proposed canceling the legal retirement age of 65 to tackle Taiwan's labor shortage, in order to encourage more people to continue working, spending and providing economic stimulus for longer.

The percentage of those 65+ still working in South Korea and Japan is over 30 percent, while in Taiwan it is only about 9 percent, Ko said, adding, "If Japan and South Korea can, there's no reason Taiwan can't."

(By Sean Lin)

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