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Asia's Game of Thrones
Beijing Chips Away at Taiwan’s Friends

With Panama peeling away from Taiwan this week to establish ties with China, Beijing is making a renewed push to poach the island’s few remaining allies and diminish its representation abroad. Reuters:

China has been pressuring the United Arab Emirates and four other countries to ask Taiwan to rename its representative offices in another sign of diplomatic pressure on the self-ruled island, Taiwan’s foreign ministry said on Thursday. […]

The pressure from Beijing on the UAE, Bahrain, Ecuador, Jordan, and Nigeria follows Panama’s decision this week to cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan and instead recognize China and its “One China” policy.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry said in a statement China wanted the five countries to ask Taiwan to use names, such as “Taipei Trade Office”, that do not suggest Taiwanese sovereignty.

“China is acting to suppress us in an impertinent way that has seriously offended the sensibilities of Taiwan’s people,” the statement said.

This is part of a longer trend. Beijing has been steadily picking away at Taiwan’s 20 remaining allies for a while now, many of them small, developing countries in Latin America or Africa that have benefitted from Taipei’s largesse and are now receiving significant investment from Beijing. None of the five countries mentioned here, however, actually have formal diplomatic relations with Taipei. In this case, Beijing is objecting to the mere use of the name “Taiwan” for their unofficial missions, which suggests an expansion of China’s efforts to marginalize Taiwan even among countries that do not formally recognize it.

For its part, the United States has been inconsistent in its relationship with Taipei this year, to say the least. The Trump era began with a phone call that spurred high hopes that the U.S. would more strongly support the island, but those early overtures have not exactly been followed up on; to the contrary, Trump may even be delaying an arms sale to Taiwan in an attempt to propitiate China as pressure builds to do something about North Korea’s nuclear progress.

Of course, one has to assume that President Trump—not one to sentimentalize military alliances at all—at least sees value in the U.S. relationship with Taiwan insofar as it annoys the Chinese quite a lot. It would be a pity to grant Beijing any of these kinds of symbolic but nevertheless important victories in pursuit of one-off concessions on pressuring Pyongyang.

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  • KremlinKryptonite

    A pretty meaningless endeavor. Really, this is all the CCP has left. They have no Taiwan strategy anymore. After some sticks failed in the 90s, the carrot attempt of the 2000s also ended in abject failure. Funnily, closer relations with China only exacerbated the sense of a distinct identity in Taiwan, resulting in the complete rejection of what from the very beginning had always been China’s strategy: eventual unification.
    Short of military conquest, there is very little in the current set of options available to the CCP suggesting that “peaceful unification” is even remotely possible.

    • Isaiah6020

      How likely do you think the military option is? It seems China has a lot to lose and precious little to gain from that action. Why upset the apple cart that is making the top echelon of Chinese hierarchy very VERY rich?

      • KremlinKryptonite

        This is a touchy subject obviously. It brings up the very much competing interests between the PLA and the CCP. You’re right that many on the mainland reap inordinate gains from the status quo, no doubt, but there are elements within the PLA that want to “break out” of the first island chains. Chains indeed. And capturing Taiwan is necessary to make that happen in any enduring and meaningful way.

        America has a de facto embassy in Taiwan. It’s called the American Institute in Taiwan. It is staffed by US govt personnel, and the business it conducts is government business. Also, there’s the Taiwan Relations Act which does require the US to provide Taiwan with whatever it needs to meet specific security threats. Of course, there’s also precedent from the 90s when Clinton, reluctantly, headed the USN and intervened during the strait crisis.

        So, while the chances of an actual attempt at conquest are currently small, the real issue is this topic causes real friction between the PLA and the CCP. Remember, Xi had to invoke the principles of the 1929 Gutian Conference, back in 2014. That’s not a good sign for Xi.

        Whenever you hear pundits calling Xi the most powerful man since Deng due to all of the titles he has acquired for himself it is important to keep in mind that titles mean very little in such opaque regimes. In fact, feeling the need to acquire so many titles may well mean that the outwardly powerful leader is actually struggling to control his own house.

        • Isaiah6020

          Thank you for such an intelligent response. What gets lost in the discourse is the fact that China is not a single entity, but rather a collection of entities with different, sometimes competing agendas.
          I personally have no idea how any of this ends. Xi strikes me as a strong leader who nevertheless finds himself facing some very material challenges, not least of which being the environmental cost of decades of rapid development.

          • KremlinKryptonite

            Yes, you know I’ve very briefly met the man. He first visited the Pentagon when he was 27, part of a PLA delegation, and he was essentially the note taker as I’m told (this would’ve been about 1980). When I briefly met him it was 2012. He was again visiting the Pentagon and I happened to be there with my superior. Xi had another meeting, but this time he wasnt the note taker. He was visiting as VP, and everyone knew that he’d soon be the President. Part of the carefully choreographed nature of China’s outward politics.

            In fact, back to titles, the title of chairman of the central military commission, president, or the Lord-high dog catcher, if you please, are all meaningless. The title that means something and that is indeed the prerequisite for all of the others is being the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China.

            So, we knew back in 2012 that “VP” Xi was about to become General Secretary Xi, and we “!knew!” that he was a creature of the PLA. well, he may have been in the PLA, but our assumptions about his working relationships with the PLA have turned out to be unwarranted. Many of us, myself included, underestimated the divide in the CCP and, more importantly, just how big the corresponding rift was between civilian leadership and the PLA.

          • Isaiah6020

            Here’s to hoping that avarice wins over military adventurism. Maybe throw the generals some more cash?
            As a character on one of my favorite shows (Sons of Anarchy) used to say: Large stacks of hundred dollar bills tend to have a very soothing effect on people.

          • KremlinKryptonite

            Oh, these people don’t have any shortage of cash. PLA is often referred to as PLA Inc for a reason. Commissions, including the rank of general!, are often sold for millions. It’s an investment. Once you graduate (purchase your way) from colonel to a brigadier general you have control over and access to more state resources…more to steal via your family in the “private sector.” It appears to be much like the infamous Miami bank robbers in the 80s, and the North Hollywood shootout in 1997. It’s not about the money anymore. They want to see what we’re made of.

          • Unelected Leader

            Wow. Didn’t know that you actually met him. But are you saying that Xi wants to see what we’re made of or are you talking elements of the PLA?

          • KremlinKryptonite

            It would seem the latter. Xi Jinping’s ability to change course even if he wants to is very, very unclear. It’s not a great idea to rely on a man of dubious character, who is unelected in an opaque regime, and worst of all had to reiterate the principles of the 1929 Gutian Conference (the conference that was *supposed* to establish the CCPs ownership of and control over the PLA.

    • tellourstory

      This reawakened sense of Taiwanese identity is also owed in no small part to former Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou. Ma’s attempts to bring Taiwan and China together at the expense of Taiwanese sovereignty made him one of the most hated figures on the island. Young or old, the negativity towards the man is palpable.

    • drkkrw

      Surely economic and diplomatic coercion would be enough to bring about negotiated settlement eventually, especially after a generation or two? Military capability is a moot point. Unless US and Japan deliberately prop up Taiwan economically, working against the natural direction of capital flow and market forces.

      • KremlinKryptonite

        Well that’s already been tried by the failed president Ma. Increased economic interconnectedness came with an increase in vulnerabilities. About eight or nine years ago, at the beginning of the Ma presidency, the question was very much still open.
        Now we know. All that détente, however, was illusory. Although the pragmatic Taiwanese people were amenable to trying more liberalized ties with the mainland, desire for a political union with the unelected CCP – especially among Taiwan’s youth – was and is next to nil.

  • FriendlyGoat

    It’s hard to imagine any nations benefitting substantially from pretending to support Taiwan over cooperating with Beijing. That’s why few are, including the USA beyond rhetoric. There is big China and little China. Even if a good ideological case can be made for sticking with little China because of the questionable nature of communism and the history to this point, the reality of big China is not going away. All you can hope for is that the CCP does not over-play its hand in an attempt to rush reunification by force.

  • I am kind of surprised that so many Latin American countries retained ties with the Republic of China for decades even after the United States broke off relations.

  • Che Guevara

    Hong Kong has prospered under China, and so can Taiwan. It would therefore be natural for China and Taiwan to agree on stationing the PLA on bases in Taiwan, to guarantee Taiwan’s security.

    • Kapricorn4

      Hong Kong was a British crown colony, leased from China for 99 years beginning 1895. In legal terms the British had no option but to hand sovereignty. During that period Honk Kong prospered since it was a conduit for trade from China to the West, raking off commissions on every contract. It is still relatively prosperous compared with mainland China, who are rapidly catching up. Its population is 7 million.

      The situation of Taiwan, formerly Formosa, is somewhat different, since it has been an independent nation supported by the US since 1949 and has a population of 24 million.

      • Che Guevara

        The Nationalist Government in Taiwan has always claimed that Taiwan and mainland China are one country. There is no such thing as a Taiwanese government. The Government of the Republic of China always claimed to represent all of China, including Taiwan, and moved to Taiwan after the communists took over the mainland. Even the U.S. has acknowledged the fact that Taiwan belongs to China, when after WWII they returned Taiwan to the Government of the Republic of China.
        At the end of World War II, Japan surrendered control of Taiwan and its island groups to the Allied Forces, and Taiwan was placed under the Republic of China’s administrative control.
        Following their loss of the Civil War, the Nationalist Government retreated and moved their capital to Taiwan while claiming that they were the legitimate government of the mainland.

    • TPAJAX

      Wha?! No it hasn’t. HK growth has slowed to US levels and is expected to be under 2% this year. HK went from being the world’s busiest port hub to 5th. Shanghai was 1st last year. Then there’s the whole issue of the Commuist party not honoring rights it promised to HK and interfering with HK elections.

      • Che Guevara

        Hong Kong growth has slowed similar to most other advanced economies. Taiwan growth has also slowed down. I don’t see why Hong Kong should have separate laws from the rest of China. Maybe the solution is to resettle Hong Kong residents to the interior of China, and replace them with loyal Chinese.

        • TPAJAX

          No it hasn’t. You can’t lie to me. The numbers are what they are. According to John Tsang, HK’s financial secretary, the economy now faces the “worst time in 20 years.” HK growth has slowed precipitously over many years now and this is because many of its exports were actually just re-exports cycled through HK from the mainland. HKs gross national savings rate declined from 36% in 2008 to 24% in 2015, leaving fewer funds for domestic investment.

          • Che Guevara

            Until last year, Taiwan’s economy was contracting:
            April 29, 2016
            Taiwan’s economy contracted for the third straight quarter in the January-March period.
            Taiwan’s exports fell for the 14th consecutive month.

          • TPAJAX

            Yeah no thanks to loser Ma. No wonder the DPP took over. Same sad story with HK. Increased interdependence with the mainland is right in line with their slowdowns, and with the increasing resentment toward the Communist party for trying to interfere. No shockers here.

        • Suzy Dixon

          Oh really? Now that’s an idea. Since we know you’re not just a troll idolizing a murderer then may I safely assume you’d also happily let the Trump Admin decide who is a loyal American, and move the unloyal ones out?

          • Che Guevara

            Yes, gun owners who make threats to other people should definitely be on that list.

          • Suzy Dixon

            Well who is on the list is irrelevant. So long as you’re consistent in thinkng that the Trump Admin can do the same as the CCP and any others.

          • Che Guevara

            Don’t switch subjects. We’re talking about China and Taiwan, not the U.S.

          • Suzy Dixon

            Well you’re the one using a communist warlords, and killers avatar and name, so just checking for consistency. Only way to find out if you’re even somewhat serious.

          • Andrew Allison

            He’s serious. The question is whether he’s an ideological troll (cf FG) or a paid one.

          • Che Guevara

            I’m somewhat ideological, but not a troll.

          • be careful with this guy – he reported me as a troll on National Interest and they banned me. Among most recent deleted comments were comments on European education systems, and I have open history and LinkedIn attached. “Trolls everywhere” might sound like “Russians are coming! (hop out of the window)” to those outside USA, but for those inside it see it as perfectly logical

          • Che Guevara

            I’ve also been banned on National Interest. I guess free speech and dissent should be practiced in Russia, but not in the U.S.

          • Heh, everywhere actually except US.

            First time I got banned in 2014 for saying that nuclear bombing of Japan didn’t mean much for Japan’s defeat and was a loss of life with no military purpose but only a purpose of inflicting civilian casualties – a true crime against humanity that could and should have been avoided

            So after they banned me a second time – I just thought screw it. I won’t share with them how it looks from the outside. Let them think whatever they like in their echo chamber.

            I mean, we also want for USA to be strong and wealthy. But if it doesn’t want it – what can we do?

          • Che Guevara

            I’m serious only to the extent that this is a comment board, not real life. But I genuinely do have unorthodox opinions which I share here in a sincere way, not to troll people.

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