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Former AIT head: CSSTA no impact at all on Taiwan’s TPP hopes
Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2014-04-21 08:54 PM
William A. Stanton, who was Director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) from 2009 to 2012, said in an April 18th interview that the recent tussle over approval of the Cross-strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA) in the Legislative Yuan and the student protest that ensued should have little or no effect on the future course of relations between Taiwan and the US. Stanton, who is currently Director of the Policy Center at Tsinghua University in Hsinchu, emphasized that his comments were simply his own personal opinion and he does not speak for either AIT or the American government. The gist of his remarks, however, closely paralleled those made by AIT spokesman Robert Zimmer last week in Taipei.

Stanton said it is very difficult for him to imagine that the US would ever see a trade agreement like CSSTA as a "test" in determining the direction of US policy toward Taiwan. He noted that the US has never seen Taiwan’s economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China as the equivalent of a free trade agreement (FTA), but rather as a preferential agreement that China reached with Taiwan for purely political purposes. He added that when the US views Taiwan it looks at much more than just the cross-strait agreements that the two sides have signed. It considers all of Taiwan’s external FTAs as well as other trade related pacts. CSSTA and other agreements reached under the architecture of ECFA have no relation, either direct or indirect, with the US’ benchmarks regarding suitability for agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP,) according to the former AIT director.

Stanton went on say that even though Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Fan Liqing noted that there are no precedents for renegotiating an agreement that the two sides have signed, Fan probably pointed that out because China’s approval process does not allow for any legislative approval or opposition, so they hoped that Taiwan’s legislative body will fall in line and obediently okay the agreement. In many countries, however, said Stanton, a major treaty like an FTA must have legislative approval in order to be valid. In the case of the US-South Korea FTA, more than five years elapsed before the US House and Senate finally managed to pass a version of the bill.

Stanton criticized both the government and the media in Taiwan for not having done their homework in handling the CSSTA controversy. He noted that the agreement itself is vaguely worded and there was never any detailed examination or open discussion of its conditions. If the pact is really a good trade agreement, said Stanton, the government should be happy to take the time and trouble to convince the people of its worthiness. To the best of his knowledge, said Stanton, the only benefits of CSSTA would be for groups or individuals with large-scale businesses, and the agreement would have very little to offer for the masses of ordinary people.

Stanton noted that he has urged the US to encourage Taiwan to join the TPP as Taiwan is an important trading partner of the US, For Taiwan, TPP can help resolve dumping cases involving China and relieve Taiwan of much of the anxiety it feels over FTAs that China has signed with other countries. After all, said Stanton, no country wants to be dependent on one major trading partner, yet some 80 percent of Taiwan’s foreign investment in recent years has been in China. He added that trade is the lifeblood of Taiwan, and warned that the Ma government’s goal of "joining the TPP in eight years" is not soon enough.

Stanton also warned that Taiwan must be very careful in arranging closer economic ties with China, citing the threat of pressure on authors and publishers to practice "self-censorship" that is already being seen in places like Hong Kong and Macao where China’s influence on cultural activities in growing. He also noted reports that whole chapters have been ripped out of books published in Taiwan about the island’s independence movement when shipped to China. Similarly, with China and the US setting up branches of universities and colleges on each other’s soil and with the growing influx of Chinese students to the US, strong doubts about guarantees of academic freedom in China are beginning to emerge.

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