TAIPEI— One of the U.S. Senate's leading foreign affairs figures is recommending Taiwan take a stronger global economic role as Washington shifts its priorities toward Asia. Senator Robert Menendez spoke in Taipei to business leaders about forging closer economic ties.
The chairman of the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee told American business leaders in Taipei that Taiwan and the United States should negotiate an investment deal and allow the island into the Trans Pacific Partnership, a U.S.-led free trade alliance.
Taiwan also wants closer trade and investment ties with the United States to help expand its export-driven economy.
During a speech to the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei, Menendez recommended the investment pact and Taiwan’s entry to the partnership, or TPP, subject to conditions.
"I support discussions between the United States and Taiwan on a bilateral investment agreement and I have conveyed my strong support to the U.S. trade representative," he said. "I also support Taiwan’s future accession efforts in a TPP, provided that Taiwan is willing to support a high-standard, comprehensive agreement that addresses many issues, including labor and environment, currency manipulation and intellectual property rights as critical elements of it.”
The TPP is a broad deal to link 12 countries, including Japan, Vietnam, Australia, Mexico and the U.S., in a comprehensive free trade pact. The group does not currently include China, which frequently sidelines its rival Taiwan.
Menendez championed Taiwan earlier this year by spearheading a bill that obligates the State Department to push for Taiwan’s observer status in the International Civil Aviation Organization despite China’s resistance. The bill passed Congress in June. In 2011 the senator introduced legislation to require that the U.S. government to sell Taiwan late model F-16 fighter jets.
China has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s and has never renounced the use of force to reunify the two sides.
China and the United States, former Cold War foes, still distrust each other militarily. Both long-time informal allies Taiwan and the United States are trying for better relations with China with as its economy grows. Menendez said the U.S. pivot to Asia, aimed at strengthening diplomatic and military ties, is not directed against China, as Beijing fears, and noted it also includes an emphasis on economic relationships.
"A constructive and strategic American engagement in Asia is in the interest of all nations in the region, especially if we create ways to institutionalize cooperation and manage competition, creating a rules-based order for the Asia-Pacific region,” he said.
Senator Menendez, a Democrat from the U.S. state of New Jersey, is on his first trip to Asia as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He travels to South Korea Saturday before a final stop in China next week.