October 07, 2004

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Taiwan pincer movement

Wang Xiangwei at the SCMP is on a roll. Today's article represents a major shift in China's Asian diplomacy as it steps up pressure on Taiwan:

Beijing is planning steps to overcome diplomatic differences with Japan, South Korea, Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries in return for their support for increased pressure on Taiwan.
The move signals a significant shift in foreign-policy priorities, with the so-called Taiwan issue now one of the most important factors, according to mainland diplomatic sources...

Beijing (is) ready to make the necessary concessions and overtures to set aside its differences...the Taiwan issue had become one of the most important facing President Hu Jintao. The mainland leadership believed Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian was leading the island towards independence and therefore they should seek more international support from neighbours that would suffer should a war break out across the Taiwan Strait, the sources said.

As part of the effort to improve relations, the leadership is also ready to take measures to curb strong expressions of anti-Japanese sentiment by nationalist elements. Zhao Qizheng , the minister in charge of the State Council's Information Office, told Japanese journalists last week that Beijing had decided to ban anti-Japanese articles from mainstream media. The sources said the Information Office had also shut down several anti-Japanese websites, including one calling for a boycott of Japanese-made goods.

They said Premier Wen Jiabao's current visit to Vietnam would see both countries set aside their differences over the Spratly Islands and focus on boosting trade links.

Beijing is also taking steps to defuse the row with South Korea over Koguryo, the ancient kingdom straddling the Korean Peninsula and northeast China. The Koreans claim Koguryo was a precursor of the Korean nation, but mainland scholars recently asserted that it was a local government under central Chinese rule.

This is a serious move on China's part, laying the diplomatic groundwork for a more decisive move on the Taiwan issue. If China's prepared to make compromises on so many of the sensitive issues that are outstanding with its other Asian neighbours the quid pro quo of pressuring Taiwan will be a small price to pay. It's a canny move on China's part and a massive worry for Taiwan.

posted by Simon on 10.07.04 at 11:21 AM in the


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I'm not sure I follow the logic here ... China has already successfully isolated Taiwan diplomatically, so what do they gain by this? The only thing that happens when one of these nations takes an anti-Taiwan independence view is that it annoys the Taiwan government (as seen in the latest spat with Singapore ... I must admit, I'm looking forward to seeing the Taiwanese foreign minister accusing Japan of hugging China's balls - but how will that affect things?)

As for what these nations would do if China did invade Taiwan: they'd scream and shout. I'm sure they'll do this whether China was pressing the Spratley's/Koyogoru claims or not.

Perhaps we should just be pleased that China is trying to be nice to its neighbours for a change, and not look too hard for an ulterior motive?

posted by: David on 10.07.04 at 03:19 PM [permalink]

With respect I disagree. It seems to me that China is taking its diplomatic efforts up a notch to further isolate Taiwan. Japan in particular has a very mixed history with Taiwan, being a former coloniser. China would not make these efforts without an ulterior motive - why should it be "nice" when there are justifiable historical grievances?

posted by: Simon on 10.07.04 at 03:45 PM [permalink]

Yeah - but what does "further isolate Taiwan" mean? There ain't much more you can do politically (of course, economically there's plenty of scope, but you don't have to involve other countries in that ...). The only thing I can think of was the verbal support Japan gave to Taiwan's WHO bid ... is that worth forgiving Nanjing for?

Sure, there are historical links between Japan and Taiwan - but even with those, Japanese politicians are already very careful not to upset China by getting involved in Taiwan.

As for reasons to be 'nice' - perhaps someone has noticed that the levels of nationalism in China are unhealthy, will cause problems in the future, and are possibly affecting trade today.

posted by: David on 10.07.04 at 04:31 PM [permalink]

I take this to mean that China is laying the ground work so that if it did decide to invade the fallout from its neighbours would be far more muted than it would be at the moment. There would still be lines in the sand, such as a Japanese apology, but it does seem that China is finally preparing to give some ground in order to pave the way for increasing even mroe pressure on Taiwan.

You're right Taiwan is already isolated, but if China can drive an even greater wedge between Taiwan and the rest of the major Asian powers, it only leaves an over-stretched USA to deal with. It's a canny political and diplomatic move.

posted by: Simon on 10.07.04 at 04:35 PM [permalink]

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