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Taiwan Leader Urges WTO Membership

October 17, 2000

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) _ The admission of Taiwan and China to the World Trade Organization should create a turning point in relations between the longtime rivals, Taiwan’s new premier said Tuesday in his first address to the legislature.

Premier Chang Chun-hsiung, the island’s No. 3 leader, spoke to lawmakers as Taiwan’s 5-month-old government struggled to cope with political gridlock and a sliding stock market.

The success of the new administration _ headed by President Chen Shui-bian _ greatly depends on how it handles relations with Taiwan’s giant communist neighbor, China.

Since Chen took office in May, China has rejected his invitations to discuss how to ease the 51-year-old standoff between the two sides. Leaders from Beijing and Taipei have never met since the communists took over the mainland in 1949.

On Tuesday, Chang said he hoped that when Taiwan and China enter the WTO _ which sets rules for international trade _ they will have a new channel of communication. The two sides are expected to join in December or early next year.

``We hope the WTO will serve as a new bridge for the two sides,″ said Chang.

One barrier to talks has been Taiwan’s political status. Taiwan wants to be treated as an equal with China at the bargaining table. Beijing insists that its communist government is the legitimate ruler of Taiwan.

Chang noted that as WTO members, Taiwan and China will have to treat each other as equals when discussing trade issues.

Chinese leaders have insisted that before they meet with Chen, he must show that he is serious about reunification and agree that Taiwan is an inseparable part of one China.

Chen _ once a vocal supporter of Taiwan independence _ has refused to agree to any preconditions to talks.

Two weeks ago, Chang took over from Tang Fei, who resigned citing failing health. Many believed Tang stepped down because of growing political differences with the president.

Unlike Tang, Chang is a member of the president’s Democratic Progressive Party. The choice of Chang as premier signaled the end of Chen’s attempt to create a ``people’s government,″ made up of members of other parties.

Taiwan’s market has been volatile in part because of uncertain politics and new saber rattling from China. Taiwan’s benchmark index plunged to its lowest level in nearly 20 months on Monday.

On Tuesday, one of the highest-level Taiwanese trade officials to visit Beijing in recent years departed for China to attend a seminar about boosting business ties between the two sides.

Wu Wen-yea, director of the Board of Foreign Trade, will address a Wednesday meeting about opportunities for Taiwanese and Chinese businesses following the two sides’ expected accession to the WTO.

Since Taiwan ended a ban on investing in China about a decade ago, business ties between the two sides have expanded rapidly. About 40 percent of Taiwan’s foreign investment is in China.

Update hourly