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An interview with Professor Ching-Chang Yen:
President of the Taiwanese Society of International Law
Educational Background and Work Experience
Currently holding the position of President of the Taiwanese Society of International Law (TSIL), and a prominent law professor at both National Taiwan University and Soochow University, Professor Ching-Chang Yen has a wealth of experience behind him that makes him ideal for the role.
As a student at National Taiwan University, Professor Yen studied first for a Bachelor of Law followed by a Master of Arts in Political Science. Having started his academic career with the study of the more traditional international law, he continued his legal study with a Master of Comparative Law at the University of Michigan, followed by an SJD at the University of Wisconsin.
Widely considered a pioneer in Taiwan in the field of both General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) law and World Trade Organisation (WTO) law, his expertise helped him secure the role of Taiwan’s first ambassador to the WTO in 2002. In this capacity he represented Taiwan in Geneva for over three years, participating in the kick-off of the Doha Round of trade negotiations in November of 2001. Under his quality leadership, Taiwan’s participation in this multilateral trading system was well recognised. Professor Yen has extensive publications in the areas of Taxation and GATT and WTO law.
During his career, Professor Yen also spent twenty-eight years working for the Ministry of Finance, serving as Deputy Finance Minister from 1996 to 2000 before becoming Finance minister from 2000 to 2002. In the former capacity he successfully helped the then Finance Minister not only to introduce the integrated income tax system but also to tackle the negative impacts arising from the Asian Finance Crisis to Taiwan. As Finance Minister he brought about the first financial reform in Taiwan’s history to sharpen the competitive edge of Taiwan’s financial market.
Taking up the role as president of TSIL
Taiwan’s exclusion from most international organisations, such as the United Nations, has meant that it has had little exposure to the field of international law. Indeed, it was his disappointment at this exclusion not only from the UN but also from the arbitration process of international disputes that led Professor Yen to focus his legal studies on the area of GATT and WTO law, going on to become Taiwan’s leading expert on the subject.
Thus, when Taiwan became a member of the WTO and he was appointed as its first ambassador, he fully recognised the importance of the role. Describing it as a very challenging and yet rewarding experience, his outstanding performance while in Geneva notably led to him being one of only four other WTO ambassadors to be invited to contribute to “Reform and Development of the WTO Settlement System”, a volume which compiles essays written by the world’s experts on WTO law, in particular the possible reform of its dispute settlement system.
Taiwan’s constrained international status lends even greater significance to Taiwan’s membership in the WTO, and makes Professor Yen one of the most qualified professionals to lead the way in expanding the study of international law in Taiwan. In particular, alongside a background in traditional international legal study, his understanding of economic law and extensive study of comparative law, i.e..transnational law, gives him an up-to-date and well-rounded academic background which places him among the leading figures of the modern study of international law in Taiwan.
Objectives and Achievements
When Professor Yen took up the role of President of TSIL in March 2015, his main aim was to broaden the focus of the society from traditional international law to include international economic law, GATT and WTO law, as well as comparative legal study.
Over the past year, therefore, and in keeping with the academic orientation of the society, TSIL has hosted several symposiums in order to help spread a deeper public understanding of these areas. In June last year, the society held a symposium entitled “Corporate Governance,” which acted as a comparative legal study. More recently, in May 2016, TSIL held a symposium on intellectual property arbitration, bringing together speakers from the US, China and Taiwan. Both events were a great success, attracting many participants. Professor Yen hopes to continue to invite speakers from other countries to come to Taiwan and share their knowledge and expertise.
Indeed, TSIL’s president hopes that the society can serve as a platform for better communication between Taiwan and the outside world. In this regard, he feels that an English website and yearbook are also very important to the development of the society, as these help to provide a more direct means of communication with the international arena. One milestone achievement in TSIL’s recent history, of which Professor Yen is particularly proud, has been the publication of the society’s first English yearbook in May of 2016. This is based on it’s British counterpart and, together with the website, serves as a means of updating information in Taiwan related to international law.
Professor Yen has also been working to increase TSIL’s international presence abroad, notably attending the annual meeting of the American Society of International Law in Washington DC last year.
Insights from the President
Taiwan’s development and relationship with China
Professor Yen’s academic and legal acumen is complemented by extensive experience working in government as both deputy finance minister and finance minister. Although Taiwan’s future development is hard to predict, in the short-term he remains rather sceptical about the possibility of Taiwan returning to the UN and other international organisations, due mainly to China’s persistent denial of Taiwan's sovereignty.
With this in mind, in order to best strengthen international standing he suggests that Taiwan’s priority should be to focus on economic development, following the economy’s less than impressive performance in recent years.
One particular area of concern is the dependence of Taiwan’s economic development on the Chinese market. This poses a huge threat, not only from a political point of view but also from an economic one. For the time being, therefore, improving relationships with China remains closely linked to Taiwan’s international standing and economic development.
Professor Yen therefore believes that Taiwan’s recent economic downturn under the Ma administration was strongly related to its over-reliance on the Chinese market, with 40% of total exports going to China and Hong Kong. He therefore does not consider FTAs with China, for examplethe Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) signed by Ma Ying-Jeou, to be the answer to bringing about Taiwan’s economic recovery, not to mention the political implications.
Trans Pacific Partnership
For the above reasons and based on his legal experience, Ching-Chang Yen sees the Trans Pacific Partnership as a crucial remedy to Taiwan’s over-reliance on the Chinese market, going so far as to describe it as the most important trade policy going forward.
Given that Taiwan’s new president Dr Tsai Ying-wen is also an expert in this area, he believes that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is sure to attach great important to Taiwan’s possible accession to the TPP as a counterbalance to the over-reliance upon the Chinese market, alongside plans to redouble efforts in the way of economic development.
With regard to the international response to Taiwan’s membership, Professor Yen’s long-running involvement with the GATT and WTO present opportunities to observe an interesting evolution in attitudes towards Taiwan.
Indeed, he recalls that in 1990 when Taiwan applied to be a member of GATT, the US showed little support for the first two to three months. Ultimately, then president George Bush, under pressure from the senators, issued a statement saying that the US would welcome Taiwan’s GATT membership based on the terms to be accepted by all the members. The Japanese government was also similarly slow to show support during Taiwan’s accession to the GATT and its subsequent conversion to the WTO membership 12 years later.
However, in the case of the TPP we can observe very different international reactions, with both the US government and Japanese prime minister reiterating their support for Taiwan’s membership since the signature of the TPP in February this year.
Professor Yen highlighted the impact of China’s recent challenges to neighbouring countries on Taiwan’s international standing.
Interestingly, while the negotiation of the TPP was completed in October of last year, there has meanwhile been no development in the negotiations of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). With TPP frequently described as the anyone-but-China club, competition has arisen between the american-led TPP and Chinese-led RCEP for dominance. But as many countries entering negotiations for RCEP are also members of the TPP, there has been little enthusiasm for the development of RCEP.
In conclusion, while recognising the difficulty of Taiwan’s international situation and dependence on China, Professor Yen hopes that TSIL will nevertheless help to attract the attention of the outside world to Taiwan, while spreading increased understanding of international law domestically.附件1.顏慶章.jpg