Sunday, October 26, 2008

Article - China eases tensions with Japan and Taiwan

President Hu Jintao playing a game of table tennis in Tokyo during his visit in May.

International Herald Tribune

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

BEIJING: Until recently, the sight of a Japanese warship steaming toward Chinese shores or of a Chinese aircraft swooping low over Taiwan would have provoked alarm across Asia.

But when the Japanese Navy made its first Chinese port call since World War II and a Chinese charter plane ferried mainland tourists to neighboring Taiwan this summer, they were symbols not of China's dangerous rivalries, but of the diplomacy that President Hu Jintao has used to defuse them.

After two years of intensive and often secretive overtures, Taiwan and Japan, two neighbors long viewed as the most likely to face a military threat from a rising China, have been drawn closer into its orbit.

Improved relations have not only reduced the chances of a flare-up that could disrupt China's turn as an Olympic host but also helped showcase China's frequent claims to be a new kind of global power that intends to rise on the world stage without engaging in military conflict.

"China wants to use the Olympics as a turning point," said Yang Bojiang, a Japan scholar at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, a semiofficial research organization that advises on foreign policy. "It wants to make its society turn into a more mature society, increase the comprehensive power of the nation further in the world and improve its international image."

A Western diplomat echoed the same thoughts in regard to the Taiwan issue.

"The way that China deals with Taiwan will assuage or fuel anxiety over the way China deals with the other neighbors," he said, declining to be identified in accordance with normal diplomatic protocol.

In the period leading up to the Olympics, China seems to have had trouble demonstrating that it is living up to its propaganda slogan "Harmonious Society." The government's harsh reaction to Tibetan riots in March made it look repressive in Western eyes. Criticism of China's sweeping Olympics-related security measures is growing among advocates for human rights.

China is also not hesitating to assert itself even when its positions put it in direct opposition to the United States and Europe. Beijing joined Russia in vetoing a U.S.-led attempt to impose sanctions on the Zimbabwean government of President Robert Mugabe after most outside observers said he had stolen an election. And China and India battled the United States last week over measures to protect their farmers, leading to the collapse of a seven-year effort to forge a global trade agreement.

But while Westerners tend to think of China as confrontational, it has avoided the kinds of foreign wars that accompanied the rise of other emerging powers in history, including Britain, the United States, Russia, Germany and Japan.

In setting policies toward Taiwan and Japan, especially over the past two years, Hu has reined in the more hawkish attitudes of other Chinese officials, including army generals, and kept nationalist sentiment in check. That is in contrast to the way the government has often fanned such sentiments, only to see them explode, as they did in the anti-Japanese demonstrations of 2005.

China still threatens that it will invade Taiwan if the island pursues formal independence, and it keeps hundreds of missiles aimed across the Taiwan Strait. China still claims control of islands in the East China Sea over which Japan also asserts sovereignty. But it has recently emphasized its soft power.

"Beijing has adopted a flexible, pragmatic attitude," said Chang Jung-kung, deputy secretary general of the Kuomintang, the governing party in Taiwan, and a frequent negotiator with the mainland. "Beijing's most important concern is to not destroy the Olympics."

Hu has taken a risk in his outreach efforts, especially toward Japan. Some Chinese nationalists have criticized Hu, who visited Tokyo in May, for conceding too much to China's most reviled historical enemy.

In recent weeks, the Chinese government has limited protests over Japan's claims to the disputed islands in the East China Sea for fear that rampant nationalism could mar the Olympics.

One campaigner on the issue, Yin Minhong, said the police had questioned him and were pressuring him to leave Beijing before the Olympics.

Chinese leaders are also trying to tamp down nationalism over Taiwan. In July, Chinese officials announced they would refer to the Taiwan Olympic delegation by its official name, Zhonghua Taipei, rather than by Zhongguo Taipei, the name favored by people on the mainland. Zhongguo Taipei implies that Taiwan is part of the mainland, and Taiwanese officials are threatening to boycott the Games if China uses it.

In the not-so-distant past, China and Taiwan found themselves constantly at odds. The sudden shift came after Ma Ying-jeou was elected president of Taiwan in March. Ma replaced Chen Shui-bian, who sought to expand Taiwan's de facto independence.

Ma's Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party, lost the Chinese civil war to the Communists and fled to Taiwan in 1949, creating the current schism between island and mainland. But unlike Chen's Democratic Progressive Party, the Kuomintang eschews attempts at formal independence.

Under Hu's leadership, the Chinese government has worked to strengthen the political position of the Kuomintang in Taiwan while weakening that of the Democratic Progressive Party.

Joseph Wu, the leader of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council for most of Chen's second term, said Hu took a different approach to Taiwan than Jiang Zemin, who stepped down as president in 2003. Hu is more hard-line on ceding any notion of sovereignty to Taiwan, he said, but more open than Jiang to discussing economic cooperation.

"Hu Jintao is a hands-on man," Wu said. "He tries to make his own Taiwan policy, and he has his own advisers who work on it all the time."

A turning point in the Chinese government's Taiwan policy came in 2005. In March, Hu's hard-line side emerged: China passed the Anti-Secession Law, which stated in legal terms China's intent to use force against Taiwan if its government tried to declare formal independence.

But the next month, Hu appeared to change course. He hosted a meeting with Lien Chan, then the chairman of the Kuomintang, still the opposition party at the time. The meeting in Beijing was an attempt to undermine Chen's authority and extend an olive branch to those in Taiwan who favored integration. It led to a series of visits by Lien and other officials in Taiwan that has allowed the Communist Party and the Kuomintang to coordinate policy.

As the 2008 elections in Taiwan drew closer, Chinese leaders slowed down economic negotiations with Chen's government so that his party would have no positive news on that front to present to voters, the party's officials say.

After Ma's victory on March 22, Chinese and Taiwanese officials quickly worked together to strengthen relations. They signed an agreement in mid-June to open up flights and tourism.

In China's diplomacy with Japan, Hu also took the reins. Relations reached a low point in 2005, when Junichiro Koizumi, then the Japanese prime minister, repeatedly visited the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which honors Japanese war dead, including some whom the Chinese view as war criminals. At the same time, China and Japan were engaged in territorial disputes, and the Chinese protested the way wartime history was being depicted in Japanese textbooks. Violent anti-Japanese protests flared up here.

The next year, when Koizumi's chief cabinet secretary, Shinzo Abe, took over as prime minister, Hu was faced with a problem: Abe was considered even more conservative than Koizumi and had visited the war shrine himself, but Abe was signaling that he wanted to visit China.

Here was a chance for a fresh start.

Yang, the Japan scholar, said Chinese leaders almost certainly reached an undisclosed understanding with Abe: China would welcome Abe if he discontinued the shrine visits.

On Oct. 8, 2006, less than two weeks after taking office, Abe met with Hu in Beijing.

"The arrangement was made by a quick leadership decision: 'If you want to come, we'll welcome you,"' said Wenran Jiang, a Japan expert and acting director of the China Institute at the University of Alberta in Canada. "The Chinese leadership took a gamble on Abe."

Improved relations helped clear the way for Yasuo Fukuda, an openly pro-China politician, to take over as prime minister in September 2007. Fukuda met with Hu in Beijing in December, and Hu reciprocated in May, in the first visit to Tokyo by a Chinese head of state in a decade.

"We can't find any document that's as bold as this in describing the bilateral relationship between China and Japan," said Jin Linbo, a Japan scholar at the China Institute of International Studies. "It demonstrated Hu's personal leadership in formulating and implementing China's foreign policy."

Jin said that during the visit, Hu also probably reached an agreement in principle with Fukuda on joint development of oil fields in the East China Sea, one of the most delicate issues dividing the countries.

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