Dragon's Smile Slips


Two interesting, related articles I came across today–one an analysis one a news item. The first was a piece‘ >a piece in the Economist’s Banyan column, looking at how China’s smiling diplomacy is starting to look a little strained. It essentially makes the point I’ve made here a few times that China is going to be judged more on its actions than its words, and that plans cooked up at home might not look so good under the unpredictable spotlight of international scrutiny. Banyan says:

‘China’s clout makes a mockery of two guiding tenets of its charm offensive: relations on the basis of equality; and non-interference.

‘That calls for a new diplomacy. China’s presentational problems with the old one speak of an abiding lack of sophistication, and an attachment to a ritualistic diplomacy ill-suited to fast-moving negotiations, such as in Copenhagen, where the outcome is not pre-cooked.’

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China’s charm offensive has also been in evidence over the past year in relations with Taiwan. The election of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou heralded warmer ties then under Ma’s predecessor. But China demonstrated it won’t play nicely if it doesn’t get its own way with the island, with an announcement yesterday covered in the China Daily warning the US of severe consequences if it goes through with a major arms sale to Taiwan.

I asked Taiwanese editor and blogger Leonard Chien if this story, headline news in the China Daily, was as big in Taiwan as the mainland. He said yes, in part because of the light it could shed on ties with the US generally:

‘It will become a big topic for media discussion, whether in the papers or on TV. Taiwan and the United States are going through serious negotiations regarding US beef imports (which Taiwan has this week blocked on health grounds).

‘Some experts claim this impasse will jeopardize future bilateral negotiation, be it an FTA, our visa-free status or the arms sale. So, if this arms sale is to happen, to some people, what–and how much–is in the sale will be a good indicator of Taiwan-US relations.’

The issue of the arms sale of course begs the question of how much of a military threat Taiwanese see China, despite Ma’s efforts at improving ties. Chien told me:

‘Some people still consider China a serious military threat [and] it’s a fact that China still places hundreds of missiles targeting Taiwan, no matter how economically integrated the two sides are.

‘As long as both sides still conduct military exercises with the other as the potential enemy, the tension–especially military–will not disappear. So it’s understandable that some Taiwanese still regard China as a military threat and strongly support arms sale from the US.’

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