China Forces Taiwan Out of High-Level Meeting in BelgiumBeijing appears to be turning the screws on Taiwan
In another sign of Beijing’s hardening stance on Taiwan, government representatives from Taiwan on April 18 were asked to leave a high-level meeting at an international steel symposium held by the OECD Steel Committee and the Belgian government after organizers were reportedly pressured by China.
Giving in to pressure from the Chinese side, which claimed that the Taiwanese delegates were not “senior enough,” Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Kris Peeters weighed in and requested the members of the Taiwanese delegation leave the afternoon High-Level Symposium on Excess Capacity, according to reports. Despite its protests, the Taiwanese delegation was expelled, prompting Taiwan’s representative office in Brussels to issue a protest with the Belgian government. Taipei has since protested with the OECD and to Beijing via the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), the agency in charge of relations with China.
Hsu Pei-yung (徐珮勇), head of the international organizations division at Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), said Taiwan and China had participated at similar meetings in the past and had had cordial exchanges. The last such meetings were held in Paris in 2003 and 2004.
Shen Wei-cheng (沈維正), director-general of the Industrial Development Bureau’s Metal and Mechanical Industries Division under the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), Liu Chih-hung (劉志宏) of the EU division at MOEA, as well as representatives from the Kaohsiung-based China Steel Group, Taiwan’s largest steelmaker, were part of the delegation.
Dumping practices, as well as overcapacity and restructuring are expected to be on the agenda at this year’s conference, which runs April 18-21 at the Palais d’Egmont in Brussels. Taiwan and China were both the targets of punitive anti-dumping tariffs by the EU last year.
The OECD Steel Committee consists of 25 OECD Members — Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the U.K, the U.S., and the European Commission — plus four Associates (Brazil, Romania, the Russian Federation and Ukraine) and six Participants (Bulgaria, Egypt, India, Malaysia, South Africa and Taiwan [Chinese Taipei]).
China, which is not a member of the OECD, participates as an Invitee. It is the world’s largest producer and consumer of steel.
The controversy occurs amid an ongoing spat between Taipei and Beijing over the deportation of 45 Taiwanese nationals from Kenya to China in a telecommunication fraud case. It also takes place a week after the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration announced it would no longer apply to join the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) because it has not been treated with “dignity and equality.” Beijing had long made it clear that if Taiwan were to join the organization, it would have to do so under a title that clearly indicated its status under “one China.”
Last month, U.S. President Obama signed a bill mandating the State Department to help Taiwan obtain observer status in the international police agency Interpol. This may have prompted Beijing, which is always sensitive to Taiwan’s participation in global organizations, to take retaliatory action.
Fears that Beijing may be turning the screws on Taiwan have also caused uncertainty over whether Taiwan will be invited to attend this year’s World Health Assembly (WHA) meeting in Geneva as an observer, which in previous years has ostensibly been contingent on Beijing’s “permission.” MOFA’s Hsu, however, has asked for patience, saying that last year’s invitation letter from the WHO had arrived in late April.
J. Michael Cole is the editor-in-chief of Thinking Taiwan, a senior non-resident fellow at the University of Nottingham’s China Policy Institute, and an associate researcher with the French Center for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC) in Taipei.