Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has called on Australia to back its inclusion in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and negotiate a free trade agreement, as China’s neighbour faces increasing military pressure from Beijing.
Tsai warned the risk of conflict in the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea required careful management and there were rising concerns over the potential for accidents given the increased military activity in the region.
“We are paying close attention to the potential hot spots of conflict in the East China Sea and South China Sea,” she said.
China launched two missiles into the South China Sea on Wednesday after a US spy plane entered a no fly zone in the contested area. China’s decision to impose strict new national security laws on the former British colony of Hong Kong has raised concerns that it will accelerate long-held plans for unification with Taiwan.
“We expect Beijing to exercise restraint,” Tsai said. “Beijing’s formulation of One China is not acceptable to Taiwan especially in the light of the developments we have witnessed in Hong Kong.”
China maintains Taiwan is a renegade province that belongs to the mainland. Taiwan and China split after years of civil war forced China’s former government, the Kuomintang, to withdraw to Taiwan in 1949.
Taiwan is on the front lines of democracy,” she said. “The People’s Republic of China has no jurisdiction over Taiwan”.
In her most direct comments on the relationship between Australia and Taiwan to date, Tsai used the virtual address at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute on Thursday to push for greater ties between the two governments.
Under its One China policy, established after Australia began diplomatic relations with China in 1972, the Australian government does not recognise Taiwan as a sovereign state and does not regard the authorities in Taipei as having the status of a national government. The distinction has meant there has historically been little to no contact between the two at a ministerial level.
But the coronavirus pandemic and rising tensions with Beijing has seen sub-ministerial diplomatic engagement grow. Australia has lobbied for Taiwan to be included in international forums such as the World Health Organisation. The White House sent US Health Secretary Alex Azhar to Taipei in August for the highest level meetings between the two administrations in more than four decades.
“The relationship between Taiwan and Australia has grown quite close in recent years,” Tsai said. “Despite the distance between the two countries, we have noticed Australia’s efforts to uphold democracy and freedom.”
She said the economic relationship was mutually beneficial, citing gas, meat and health food exports, and urged the Morrison government to consider a free trade agreement and back the island’s inclusion in the latest version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, also known as TPP11. The trade deal includes Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
“My hope is to begin negotiations for a Taiwan-Australia economic cooperation agreement in the very near future.”
The Australian government has consistently said it has no immediate plans to begin negotiations on a free trade agreement with Taipei where Australia sends $10 billion in exports each year.
Chen-wei Lin, the chief executive of Taiwan’s Institute for National Defence and Security Research said the two sides had developed a very sound foundation for strong bilateral ties.
“This sort of cooperation was unimaginable a few years ago,” he said. “But there are still many challenges for to deepen our relationship.”