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Taiwan asks to join trade group, says China might interfere

The Chinese government, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory, gave no details of how it might respond but said the island has no right to join international bodies.

In this 2015 file photo, fishing boats are secured in a port during foul weather in Yilan County, northeastern Taiwan. (AP)

Taiwan announced Thursday it has applied to join an 11-nation Pacific trade group, setting up a potential clash with rival Beijing over the status of the island democracy.

The Chinese government, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory, gave no details of how it might respond but said the island has no right to join international bodies.

A Taiwan Cabinet minister said the island’s application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership might be disrupted if China, which applied last week, is admitted first.

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The CPTPP, which took effect in 2018, includes agreements on market access, movement of labour and government procurement. Other members include Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Singapore and New Zealand.

“China has been obstructing Taiwan’s opportunities in the international arena,” said John Deng, a minister without portfolio, at a news conference. “If China joins ahead of Taiwan, it will endanger Taiwan’s application.”

The CPTPP was the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a group promoted by then-President Barack Obama. His successor, Donald Trump, pulled out in 2017. President Joe Biden has not rejoined.

China and Taiwan have been ruled separately since the Communist Party took control of the mainland in 1949 following a civil war. They have extensive trade and investment ties but no official relations.

“The Taiwan region is an inalienable part of China,” said a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian. “We are firmly opposed to any official contacts between Taiwan and other countries, as well as Taiwan’s accession to any agreements or organisations that are of an official nature.”

Deng said Taiwan’s status as a democracy and market economy should count in its favour. “Taiwan and China follow different systems of organisation. We are an integrated market economy,” he said. “We have democracy and the rule of law backing us. Our laws are transparent to all.”

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