By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
Ever since Mexico first adopted its now-antiquated One-China policy back in 1972 under then-President Luis Echeverría, the island nation of Taiwan (also known as the Republic of China, or ROC) has been patiently waiting for the Land of the Aztec Pyramids to wake up and recognize the fact that, not only does Mexico have a lot more in common with Taiwan than China in terms of democratic values, individual freedoms and respect for human rights, but as a trade and investment partner, Taiwan is a much more reliable friend than the expansionist Red Dragon ever was or ever could be.
In geographic terms, the 35,400-square-kilometer island (with a population of less than 24 million people) may be dwarfed by its intimidating neighbor China (with a land mass of nearly 9.4 million square kilometers and a burgeoning 1.4 billion population), but in sheer economic terms, Taiwan is a real dynamo.
With a purchasing power GDP parity of nearly $1.2 trillion in 2017, the “Little Island That Could” (even in the face of more than 1,500 medium-range ballistic missiles aimed at it from across the Strait as a reminder from Beijing that China still considers it a renegade territory that needs to be brought back into its fold, at any cost and by any means) now ranks in 23rd place among the world’s economies.
And with a capitalist, market-driven economic engine fueled largely by industrial manufacturing – especially exports of electronics, machinery and petrochemicals – Taiwan now runs a trade surplus with both China and the United States. (In 2017, it registered an impressive 11 percent growth in overseas sales, thanks in part to a strong global demand for semiconductors.)
The ROC’s foreign reserves are the fifth-largest worldwide, and despite stagnant wages, high housing prices, youth unemployment, job insecurity and mounting retirement costs, last year the ROC upped its GDP growth to 2 percent, compared to 1.5 percent the year before – an impressive figure for a nation that already ranks among the world’s most highly developed economies.
As for Taiwan’s economic and commercial ties with Mexico, they are considerable, especially given the fact that the Mexican government still refuses to acknowledge the ROC diplomatically.
Taiwan is Mexico’s third-largest investor from Asia, and its 11th-largest trade partner globally.
Mexico is also Taiwan’s second-largest trade partner in Latin America, and its Number 1 destination for direct foreign investment in the region.
Currently, there are more than 300 Taiwanese companies with more than $3 billion in capital holdings in Mexico, providing direct jobs to no less than 60,000 workers.
In comparison, Mainland China has only $281 million in investment holdings in Mexico.
And while combined Sino-Mexican trade amounted to nearly $81 billion in 2017, only $5 billion of that figure was represented by Mexican exports to China, meaning that Beijing had a whopping trade surplus with Mexico of more than $71 billion.
Taiwan’s combined trade with Mexico last year, on the other hand, may have totaled only $7.8 billion, but the import-export breakdown was far more equitable and Mexico was left with no big trade deficit.
And Taiwanese trade and investment do not even tell half the story of how the ROC is cooperating with Mexico in a vast range of fields.
For the last quarter century, Taiwan has generously shared its advanced technology and economic knowhow with Mexico, and has steadfastly stood by it in times of economic troubles and natural disasters, including the devastating Sept. 19, 2017, earthquake that rocked the country and left at least 370 people dead (among them, several Taiwanese citizens).
Taiwan maintains a Tzu-Chi Buddhist, a Mandarin language school and a bilateral commercial chamber in Mexico, and has, over the years, provided training programs and emergency assistance to more than 12,000 Mexican families in Mexico City, Morelos and Puebla.
But judging from the speech that Carlos S.C. Liao, director general of the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office in Mexico, made during his national day reception on Friday, Oct. 5, Taiwan’s tempered patience with a seemingly unappreciative Mexico is beginning to wear thin – very, very thin.
After carefully detailing just how much Taiwan has done with and for Mexico since opening its Economic and Cultural Office here in 1993 – including offering more than 800 Mexican students academic scholarships to study in Taipei and forking up $6 million in humanitarian aid to help in the rescue and rebuilding following the Sept. 19 earthquake – Liao made it clear that his government is now expecting at least a semblance of reciprocity from Mexico.
“You know that Taiwan is a positive and constructive partner, ready and willing to continue strengthening its relations (with Mexico) on a broad range of fields,” he said, in an apparent response to the incoming President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) unabashed courtship of China, as evidenced by his one-on-one meetings with Beijing’s ambassador to Mexico Qui Xiaoqi shortly after his July 1 victory at the polls.
“And it is for that reason that we are asking for the good offices of your government to promote a greater synergy (between our two nations) that will allow for the creation of new areas of opportunities.”
Liao went on to say that, “based on that vocation and commitment, and on behalf of the people and government of Taiwan, I wish to call on Mexico – including its new incoming government – to consider adopting a more flexible and pragmatic policy in its relations with Taiwan.”
The envoy said that, in so doing, Mexico would not only open the door to “a more fruitful and mutually beneficial” bilateral relationship, but would also bridge the way for exploring common interests, business potentials and untapped revenues that might have been overlooked in the past.
In addition to the implied request for Mexico to consider loosening its rigid One-China policy that has for so long excluded diplomatic recognition of Taiwan (a political kowtow to Beijing’s whims to try to force the rest of the world to accept the island as a defector province rather than as the de facto independent and sovereign nation it has been for nearly seven decades), Liao made a specific request of the Mexican government to endorse Taipei in its bid to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the proposed massive 11-nation trade pact that replaced the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) when the United States dropped out.
“This multilateral agreement is characterized by its promotion of high-level compliance norms aimed at ensuring a safe environment and sustainable development in the Asia-Pacific commercial region,” Liao said, referring to the CPTPP, to which the People’s Republic of China is a not a member.
Liao likewise appealed to Mexico, which belongs to the CPTPP, to recognize that “Taiwan is prepared and ready” to become a Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans Pacific Partnership member, given its ability to comply fully with the ´proposed pact’s strict requirements and regulations.
“If we are accepted to the eventual incorporation of the CPTPP, the influx of trade and investment from Taiwan to Mexico, as well as to other countries, will increase irrefutably,” he said.
Liao also pointed to Mexico’s refusal to remove tedious and red-tape-burdened visa requirements for Taiwanese citizens, a policy his government has been trying to change for a number of years.
“Once again, I call on the corresponding competent Mexican authorities to consider an appropriate measure to exonerate Taiwanese citizens from having to get visas, in keeping with the example of the 167 countries and territories around the world which have already done so,” he said.
“Moreover, Taiwan is willing to negotiate a reciprocity in this matter, should Mexico ask for it.”
Liao concluded by noting that Taiwan and Mexico have dynamic and complementary economies that provide a framework for mutual commercial and economic growth, and share common ethical values and strong democratic principles.
Taiwan’s National Day, known as “Double-Ten Day” because it falls on Oct. 10, commemorates the founding of the first republic in all of Asia.
However, in 1949, Chinese Nationalist troops fled to the island now-known as Taiwan after the communist-controlled government of Mao Tse-tung forced their leader Chiang Kai-shek and his followers to abandon mainland China.
Since then, the Taiwanese people have considered themselves to be an independent nation, although their sovereignty is sorely contested by China.
In the last two years, Beijing has stepped up international political and economic pressure to try to snatch away Taiwan’s few remaining diplomatic allies in an effort to make Taipei irrelevant in the international arena..
Currently, only 17 states still have formal diplomatic relations with Taipei, following the recent decisions of Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Panama to severe ties with the ROC, bowing to commercial threats from Beijing.