Thursday, March 21, 2013

China’s version of the (now failing) diplomatic truce: Prevent Taiwan from joining regional security forum

UN Sec.-Gen Ban Ki-moon speaks at last year's JIDD
Taiwanese delegates at a security forum in Jakarta had their invitations ‘withdrawn’ after Chinese officials filed a complaint 

It’s probably too soon to tell whether this is a sudden shift in policy under the new leadership of President Xi Jinping (習近平) or the result of mounting frustration in Beijing over Taipei’s continued refusal to engage in political talks, but in the past week alone, China has twice reneged on its commitments under the so-called “diplomatic truce” implemented after Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) became president in 2008 by continuing to limit Taiwan’s international space.

First, one day after Pope Francis was installed in the Vatican, Beijing called on the Holy Church to sever its diplomatic ties with Taiwan, a move that directly contravenes the tacit agreement between Taipei and Beijing that, under the truce, they would not attempt to steal each other’s allies. The Vatican is Taiwan’s sole diplomatic ally in Europe. Ma’s attendance at the investiture — the first time a Taiwanese president was invited to attend the ceremony — added to the full diplomatic treatment of Ma’s delegation by Italian authorities, surely had something to do with Beijing’s discontent.

Now, as the Financial Times reports today, also this week, two Taiwanese academics and two officials at Taiwan’s representative office in Jakarta, Indonesia, were at the last minute prevented from attending the two-day Jakarta International Defense Dialogue (JIDD) after the Chinese embassy became aware of their presence and complained to the Indonesian defense ministry, the organizer of the event. Jakarta caved in, and the invitations for the event beginning on Wednesday were, in effect, withdrawn, thus barring Taiwanese from engaging in dialogue with other regional partners on security issues. Coincidentally, and I believe this is just that, a coincidence, former Democratic Progressive Party chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) happens to be in Indonoesia these days.

Among other things, the Taiwanese reportedly hoped to discuss security issues in the hotly contested South China Sea with American and Philippine delegates. Taiwan was able to participate at last year’s JIDD, with no complaints from Beijing. However, the organizer said that as the event is organized by the government, Jakarta must take objections by other countries into consideration.

So much for improving cross-strait ties.

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