China has no reason to oppose Taiwan's possible signing of a free trade agreement (FTA) with Malaysia, as ultimately the signing will be beneficial to both sides of the strait, Taiwan's top envoy to the Southeast Asian country said yesterday.
"The R.O.C., Malaysia and mainland China are three important regional economies, " Lo Yu-chung, Taiwan's representative in Malaysia, told the Apple Daily yesterday.
Taiwan has already signed the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) to facilitate bilateral, cross-strait economic exchanges. So if Taiwan and Malaysia sign an FTA, it will be beneficial to both sides of the Taiwan Strait and to the Southeast Asian country, he noted.
"China has no reason or need to express objection over Taiwan's possible signing of an FTA with Malaysia," Lo noted.
Lo made the remarks during a telephone interview with local reporters when asked to comment on Malaysian media reports on Wednesday that quoted the Chinese ambassador to Malaysia as expressing opposition to any move by Malaysia to sign an FTA with Taiwan.
During a question-and-answer session following a speech at the Asia-Europe Institute in Universiti Malaya on Tuesday, Huang Huikang stressed that China is not against non-official exchanges and ties in trade and education between the peoples of Malaysia and Taiwan.
"I understand many Malaysians are studying in Taiwan. Many (Malaysians) have trade and business cooperation with Taiwanese or visit Taiwan as tourists." However, the Chinese government does not approve of an FTA agreement between Taiwan and Malaysia, Huang noted.
"(But) the crux of the matter is, (does China) agree that a free trade agreement should be signed between Malaysia and Taiwan? My answer is 'no,' as this is (deemed) a government-level activity," the English-language newspaper The Sun reported Wednesday.
Huang's comment is reportedly the first time in recent years that a Chinese diplomat officially expressed Beijing's objection to Taiwan's attempt to explore signing an economic pact with another country.
Taiwan has repeatedly reiterated its hopes of signing FTAs with regional partners and of ultimately joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) to allow Taiwan to effectively take part in regional economic integration.
Meanwhile, when asked to comment, MOFA spokeswoman Anna Kao yesterday stressed that Taiwan and Malaysia are both members of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the World Trade Organisation.
It is only natural that the two countries explore closer economic and trade ties by signing an FTA, she noted.
Taiwan Does Not Need China's Permission to Sign FTA: Duh
Asked to comment, Economic Minister Woody Duh yesterday said Taiwan does not need permission from China to sign an FTA with any country.
"As a sovereign state, the R.O.C.'s decision to sign an FTA with any country does not require permission from China," Duh said yesterday on a separate occasion.
He said Beijing's move to make such a comment could have been for political reasons in an attempt to pressure countries Taiwan hopes to sign an FTA with into changing their minds.
He expressed the wish that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait will continue to maintain a state of peaceful cooperation politically so that Beijing will not try to pressure other countries.
A diplomatic source yesterday told local media that the feasibility study on the possible signing of an FTA between Taiwan and Malaysia was already completed this March. The two governments will soon discuss how to proceed in the negotiations, the source said.