Japan’s position on China and Taiwan’s CPTPP candidacies – the diplomat

China announced last month that it would apply to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trade and Peaceful Partnership Agreement (CPTPP). It was quickly followed by Taiwan. With the UK already applying for membership, the CPTPP has reached an important crossroads. Will it now allow itself to become a significantly larger free trade framework?

With China and Taiwan, this issue is even more politicized than usual. Membership for both would be very loaded in terms of domestic policy. For this reason, joining is not an easy task. So why apply for membership?

Beijing had already declared its support for free trade, and President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang have already talked about membership, so in a sense it’s an established policy. The question, however, was the timing. On the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on July 1, 2021, Xi said China has achieved a “moderately prosperous society in all respects,” a statement that the problem of poverty has been eradicated. The next goal, which has not been presented, is apparently “common prosperity”. By promoting further socio-economic reforms and joining the CPTPP, China’s intention may be to join this powerful free trade framework to promote common prosperity policies, including monopoly control. Additionally, by joining a free trade framework that does not include the United States, China could aim to play a leadership role in non-WTO global free trade frameworks, such as the Partnership. Comprehensive Regional Economic (RCEP) and other free trade agreements.

China’s candidacy is primarily a matter for the president of the CPTPP. In 2021, it’s Japan, followed by Singapore and New Zealand. These last two countries are a little more open to Chinese membership than Japan is.

As for Taiwan, it had previously given a number of indications that it would apply to become a member of the CPTPP. The CPTPP is basically an economic and trade framework under the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and since Taiwan is a member of APEC as Chinese Taipei, it is procedurally possible for Taiwan to apply to become a member of the APEC. CPTPP. However, China has become increasingly vigilant of the policies of the administration of the Progressive Democratic Party of Tsai Ing-wen, which Beijing sees as reinforcing Taiwan’s tendency towards independence, and it has strongly criticized Taiwan’s candidacy for membership in the CPTPP, claiming that it violates the “one-China policy”, among other principles. Indeed, if China manages to join first, it will be able to oppose Taiwan’s accession. Even if it is ahead of Taiwan in the accession negotiations, China may create difficulties by claiming that Taiwan is part of China.

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For its part, Taiwanese citizens are extremely sensitive to food issues, and referendums have suspended imports from Fukushima and other parts of Japan. It will make it a challenge for the Tsai administration to gain the support of the various organizations associated with Japan’s primary industry. Moreover, with the electoral season about to begin, the application of the CPTPP could be damaging for the Tsai administration. This is probably why Taiwan was reluctant to apply in the first place. In the end, however, China’s candidacy was enough to prompt Tsai to relocate. Yet the negotiations represent a difficult road to travel.

For China, too, the negotiations will not be easy. In particular, the reform of state-owned enterprises and the elimination of domestic regulations are just two of a multitude of aspects that conflict with China’s socialist system. The most valuable aspect for Beijing is to show the country and the rest of the world that it has applied for membership and that it is engaged in ongoing membership negotiations. This may also be true for the Tsai administration. For now, the fact that Taiwan has applied for membership and is advancing in negotiations is important in itself.

Regarding their position on the nominations, CPTPP members are divided. The CPTPP operates on unanimous consent, so if even a country is against an application, membership will not be granted. Australia has already made it clear that it opposes China’s bid. The Japanese government too, while welcoming Taiwan’s candidacy, reacted negatively to China’s candidacy. Since the recent LDP presidential election in Japan will be followed by a general election to the lower house, debates over diplomacy and security tend to be somewhat simplistic and uncompromising. However, when the election season ends in November, the new Japanese government, which we know will now be led by Kishida Fumio, will have to come up with a new diplomatic strategy not only for the United States and China, but for a tumultuous world in general.

What position will Japan take on the CPTPP? The United States is using climate change as an opportunity to cooperate with China. Likewise, if the Japanese government can seize this rare opportunity of China’s candidacy to join the CPTPP to strengthen its dialogue with China, and if it can occasionally show a willingness to engage in dialogue and discussion on the system. China’s socio-economic and other CPTPP-related issues, the new Kishida government will benefit from a significantly expanded diplomatic scope. The same goes for Taiwan. China’s inevitable opposition to Taiwan’s membership means that Japan cannot secure Taiwan’s membership on its own. The Japanese government will need to engage in dialogue and coordination with Taiwan and other member countries, moving more cautiously and at the same time more boldly than ever before.

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