China has abruptly rescinded tariff concessions granted to Taiwan, a move that is certain to inflame tensions across the Taiwan Strait just weeks before Taiwan holds its presidential election. The announcement of the decision earlier today clouds the impending elections and raises questions about Beijing’s intentions.
Taiwanese intelligence reports that Wang Huning, the Chinese Communist Party’s fourth-ranking leader, recently called a conference to coordinate attempts to sway the election while lessening the possibility that outside parties would discover proof of such meddling.
The investigation into Taiwan’s purported commercial barriers with the mainland was extended by the Chinese Commerce Ministry last Friday to January 12, one day prior to the island’s presidential and legislative elections.
The tariff hikes, ranging from 20% to 25% on certain Taiwanese goods, come as a surprise, as China had previously offered preferential treatment to Taiwanese exports as part of efforts to foster closer economic ties. Analysts see the move as a signal of China’s growing frustration with Taiwan’s recent diplomatic assertiveness and its pursuit of closer relations with the United States.
China has charged Taiwan with breaking both the provisions of their 2010 trade agreement and the regulations of the World Trade Organization.
China’s Finance Ministry said in a statement on Thursday that Taiwan had “unilaterally adopted discriminatory bans, restrictions, and other measures on the export of mainland products, violating the provisions of the Cross-Strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement.”
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said in a different statement that the investigation’s findings are impartial and objective and that the evidence is obvious.
“We support the relevant authorities to study and take corresponding measures in accordance with regulations based on the final findings of the investigation on trade barriers to Taiwan,” it stated.
In response to China’s disclosure of the investigation’s findings, Taiwan’s Office of Trade Negotiations declared that the findings were biased, factually incorrect, and against WTO procedures and standards.
It issued a statement saying, “We will never accept it and call on China to stop their political operations immediately.”
Speaking at a press briefing in Taipei following a routine cabinet meeting, Lin Tze-luen, a spokesman for Taiwan’s legislative Executive Yuan, stated that the timing of China’s investigation is deliberate and implies that its goals are more political than economic. He added that China’s investigative procedure was not transparent.