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SYDNEY (Reuters) – A Taiwan official has asked Australia to support its bid to join the CPTPP pan-Pacific trade pact, which China opposes, saying Taiwan can boost high technology trade flows and demand for Australian minerals.
Support for Taiwan’s bid would also “send a strong message” to Australian businesses impacted by China’s recent boycotts of Australian products, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office representative, Elliott Charng, told a parliament committee in Canberra on Tuesday.
“Economic sanctions imposed on Australia by China reinforce the argument of engaging with Taiwan more closely and more deeply,” he told the committee. Each member of the 11-nation CPTPP, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, has to approve new members and the committee will recommend Australia’s response.
The regional trade group, formed in 2018, currently includes Canada, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. It has received applications from Britain, China and Taiwan to join.
The bids by China and Taiwan in the past month have sparked tension, with Beijing opposing Taiwan’s application, and Taiwan accusing Beijing of bullying.
China is Australia’s largest trading partner, with exports reaching a record A$19.4 billion in the month of July on the back of iron ore demand. However diplomatic relations have soured in recent years.
Australia was Taiwan’s third-largest source of agricultural goods, worth US$607 million last year, and the CPTPP would provide structure to do business and enhance cybersecurity cooperation, said Charng, who is Taiwan’s de facto ambassador in Australia.
“The opposition from China is not unexpected. China will use every way to avoid Taiwan participating in any international organisations,” he said.
China said on Monday it had lodged stern representations with Australia over “inappropriate” comments by former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott who last week visited Taiwan, which is claimed by China, in a personal capacity, and met Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.
Abbott told reporters there on Friday Taiwan met the criteria for joining the CPTPP, however “fear of upsetting China” could cause some members to object to Taiwan’s application, and urged countries to move beyond “rhetorical support” for Taiwan and provide practical support.
China has also lobbied the Australian parliament committee to help it join the CPTPP, describing the strength of Chinese trade with Australia and avoiding mention of billions of dollars in punitive sanctions imposed by Beijing.