Category Archives: Taiwan

The Liaoning Sails The South China Sea

CHINA’S AIRCRAFT CARRIER, the Liaoning, seems to have gone no further than the South China Sea. There it has been carrying out exercises with its contingent of F-15 fighter jets including combat exercises, aerial refuelling and difficult return landings.

“The Liaoning aircraft carrier group in the South China is carrying out scientific research and training, in accordance with plans,” according to foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang. “Complex hydrological and meteorological conditions in the South China Sea as well as a cold front in the area have posed some challenges,” according to the military.

That is not the adventurous sail to the ‘second island chain’ that had been predicted. Speculation now is that the carrier will sail up the Taiwan Strait on its way back to its home port of Qingdao, to complete a symbolic circumnavigation of the island.

Meanwhile, the US Navy says the USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier that was used to bury the body of Osama bin Laden at sea in 2011, will sail from California this week to replace the USS Ronald Reagan which is ending its tour in the Western Pacific.

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Taiwan Swaps Out Prime Ministers To Bolster KMT’s Popularity

Liu Chao-shiuan’s resignation as Taiwan’s prime minister, and the toppling of several minister that is likely to follow, was hardly unexpected and it won’t change much in the sense that it is President Ma Ying-jeou who holds the reins of power. But Liu is stepping down to take political responsibility for the government’s slow response to the deadly Typhoon Morakot last month which left more than 600 dead. He will be replaced by the ruling KMT’s secretary-general and former mayor of Kaohsiung, Wu Den-yih. The change looks mostly intended to reverse the KMT’s flagging popularity ahead of December’s local elections.

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China Steps Out Despite All

Amid all the handwringing over the seriousness of the slowdown of the economy, two pieces of the other side of China.

One: Beijing has offered financial assistance to help Taipei cope with the impact of the global economic crisis and has proposed broader financial links, which would be another step in restoring government-level talks.

Two: a pair of Navy destroyers and a supply vessel will head for the Gulf of Aden on December 26 to protect merchant ships from attacks by Somali pirates. The ships will join warships from the EU, U.S., India, Russia, Malaysia and seemingly now Iran.

Steppin’ out.

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Taiwan’s Ex-President Chen Detained

The detention of Taiwan’s ex-President Chen Shui-bian on corruption allegations turns what had started out as another episode of a soap opera into a serious drama.

Chen stands accused of money laundering and illegally using 14.8 million Taiwan dollars, about half a million U.S. dollars, of a special presidential fund. He denies the allegations which he says are politically motivated.

Strongly nationalist, Chen says his successor Ma Ying-jeou, who campaigned on promises to expand ties with Beijing and put relations with the mainland on a less confrontational footing, has had him detained to curry favor with Beijing. He is, he has said, “a sacrifice to appease China.”

His arrest came at the end of a landmark visit by Chen Yunlin, the highest ranking official to visit the island since 1949. Beijing and Taipei signed a number of trade and communications agreements during the visit which was also marked by a series of unruly anti-Beijing protests.

Following a court hearing, interrupted when Chen had to go to hospital for treatment after being jostled on his way into court, the former president can now be detained for four months in prison, though he has not been formally charged.

Chen’s eight years as president were marked by a succession of corruption allegations against his family and advisors. His son-in-law was charged in 2006 with insider trading on the stock market and then jailed for seven years. That politically damaged the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party, a point probably not lost on Ma’s Kuomintang ahead of next year’s local elections.

Note and update: This post was written before Chen started his hunger strike, but publishing gremlins delayed its posting. (We have had the offending gremlin 404’d.) After five days without eating, Chen has been taken from his prison cell to hospital suffering an irregular heartbeat.

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China, Obama and Taiwan

What caught this Bystander’s eye in the otherwise pro-forma congratulatory messages from the Chinese leadership to U.S. President-elect Barack Obama was the prominence given to the importance of the Three Communiques.

For younger readers, those are the three joint statements by China and the U.S. in the 1970s and early 1980s that provided a framework for normalizing relations between the two countries. Obama was 9-years old, incidentally, at the time the first one was written.

All three address the contentious Taiwan issue and collectively provide the One-China doctrine by which the U.S. recognizes the PRC as the sole legal government of China. With a deft bit of diplomatic drafting, Washington declared that it would end formal political relations with the people of Taiwan while preserving economic and cultural ties.

Relations between Beijing and Taipei are warming. This week’s visit by Chen Yunlin, the highest ranking Chinese official to visit the island since 1949, has already resulted in a slew of groundbreaking agreements to improve trade and communications across the Taiwan Straits (see: “Beijing And Taipei Sign Suite Of Trade Deals“). Taiwan’s new president Ma Ying-jeou, wants closer relations with the mainland, a contrast to his hard-line predecessor.  Regardless of the pro-independence protests that have accompanied Chen’s visit, Beijing may be sensing a window of opportunity. It was restrained in its criticism of the Bush administration’s $6.5 billion arms sale to Taiwan announced in October (see “Taiwan Arms Sales A Storm In A Teacup“). A new president always offers  the chance of a fresh start.

While Obama has frequently talked about China, he has said little about Taiwan. He only seems to have mentioned it once in Congress and his campaign position papers give over only one paragraph to it.

Barack Obama and Joe Biden recognize the importance of maintaining the One China policy, as laid out in the Three Communiqués, and they also underscore that the Taiwan Relations Act, an act of the U.S. Congress passed on March 29, 1979, undergirds our relations with Taiwan. They will work to ensure that a military conflict across the Taiwan Strait never arises – by maintaining good relations with China and Taiwan and by making clear that we expect them to resolve their differences peacefully and through dialogue. While Barack Obama and Joe Biden oppose the use of force to resolve the issue, he will act to ensure that Taiwan, a thriving democracy, is not coerced into accepting a change in its status against its will. As Obama said in May 2007, “This means maintaining our military presence in the Asia-Pacific region, strengthening our alliances, and making clear to both Beijing and Taipei that a unilateral change in the status quo in the Taiwan Strait is unacceptable.”

All very measured, in the Obama way. Change might be coming to America, but not , this Bystander would hazard, to U.S. Taiwan policy anytime soon.

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Beijing And Taipei Sign Suite Of Trade Deals

Immediate results from Chen Yunlin’s visit to Taipei, the highest level visitor to the island from the mainland since 1949: daily direct flights and new cargo routes among a suite of 13 trade agreements that set aside long-standing security and sovereignty issues.

The number of direct China-Taiwan charter flights will triple to 108 per week and they will run daily instead of four days out of seven. Routes will be shortened, obviating the need for a Hong Kong or Macao stop. Private business jets will be allowed to fly and there will be 60 direct cargo flights per month. Direct cargo shipments by sea will be allowed between 11 ports in Taiwan and 63 in China, tax free.

Next steps in the growing cross-Straits relations will likely be Taiwanese banks setting up branches on the mainland and vice versa.

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