As candidates for Japan’s number one post continues to sooth relations with its giant neighbor, China is facing yet another diplomatic challenge from President Chen Shui Bian of Taiwan.
Hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese took to the streets in support of the island's latest bid for United Nations membership.
"We will (apply to) join the UN under the name 'Taiwan' and we will let the world hear Taiwan's voice via the referendum," President Chen Shui-bian told supporters in Kaohsiung and outside the UN headquarters in New York via a videolink. "China says Taiwan is part of it but I believe we definitely cannot agree with that. Taiwan is an independent sovereign country... UN for Taiwan," Chen said.
Chen’s campaign took place despite pointed warnings from both the US (its major patron) and China. In Sydney, US President George W. Bush and China's Hu Jintao voiced concerns over President Chen’s campaign, with a Hu warning it could spark off a "possibly dangerous period." Jia Qinglin who is in Japan lobbied Tokyo to oppose and stop "Taiwan independence" and to safeguard peace and stability across the Straits and in the region. In response, LDP Secretary-General Aso said the Japanese side abides by the bilateral joint statement on the Taiwan question and this position will not change.
Back in Beijing, China reserved the harshest words for President Chen. "If Chen Shui-bian obstinately and recklessly makes dangerous moves regardless of warnings and denouncements of the international community, he must shoulder 'all serious consequences' arising from this," said Li Weiyi, spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council. Li told a regular press conference that Chen is "an out-and-out schemer" and "a destroyer" who will not hesitate to ruin peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits and in the Asia-Pacific region. Calling Chen a national traitor, Li added that Chen "blatantly launched provocations to seek 'Taiwan independence' prior to the island's 'presidential election' next year to seek personal gains for himself and his own party, but totally regardless of the interests of 23 millionTaiwan compatriots".
Domestically, to counter the pro-independence forces, the main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party mobilized some 100,000 people joined a rally in the central city of Taichung headed by its presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou, promoting a move to join the UN as the "Republic of China". "We are seeking to return to the UN with a pragmatic and flexible approach. The DPP's proposal to join the UN under the name 'Taiwan' is unfeasible and it is an election ploy," Ma told the crowd.
Across the Pacific, in its clearest warning yet against a controversial referendum initiated by Taiwan, the US said the move could have 'potentially large' drawbacks for US-Taiwan ties. The act would also backfire on Taiwan by strengthening China's hand in limiting the island's international space, according to senior US official Thomas Christensen. 'Taiwan's security is inextricably linked to the avoidance of needlessly provocative behaviour,' he told an audience which included Taiwanese defence officials and lawmakers.
'It means that responsible leadership in Taipei has to anticipate potential Chinese red lines and reactions and avoid unnecessary and unproductive provocations.' Mr Christensen said, adding that the 'ill-conceived and potentially quite harmful' move would instead 'scare away potential friends who might help Taiwan'.
'On that point, let me be perfectly clear: While US opposition to Chinese coercion of Taiwan is beyond question, we do not recognise Taiwan as an independent state, and we do not accept the argument that provocative assertions of Taiwan independence are in any way conducive to maintenance of the status quo.' 'Our bottom line is that the potential downsides of such an initiative for Taiwan and US interests are potentially large...The benefits for Taiwan's international status are non-existent,' he said, but stopped short of elaborating on the possible consequences.
While backing Beijing on the need for Taipei to step back from brinksmanship, Washington was determined as ever to provide the means for Taiwan to defend itself, with a huge arms deal looming in the background in which Pentagon could make as much as S$3.3b in arms sales to Taiwan. The package included a dozen P-3C Orion anti-submarine patrol aircraft and SM-2 anti-aircraft missiles.
The US Defence Security and Cooperation Agency said the ‘the proposed sale will help improve the security of the recipient and assist in maintaining political stability, military balance and economic progress in the region'. The P-3C Orions, which would come from excess US stock, are capable of conducting anti-submarine warfare, the mainstay of Chinese naval power. ‘[Taiwan’s] continuing efforts to modernise its armed forces and enhance its defensive ability to counter air threats,' the agency said.
The arms sale interestingly triggered off a controlled response from Beijing. 'The Chinese side strongly opposes the sales of weapons to Taiwan by the US government,' a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said on Monday. 'This constitutes rude interference in China's internal affairs. The Chinese side strongly protests against this and has raised solemn representations with the United States. ''We urge the US side to implement with real actions its solemn commitments on the Taiwan issue, immediately cancel the weapons sales to the Taiwan military, end all weapons sales and contacts with the Taiwanese side and stop sending wrong signals to Taiwan,' she said. 'The Chinese side reserves the right to adopt further measures.'
China protests against proposed US weapons sales to Taiwan (Straits Times, 17 September 2007)
Hundreds of thousands rally in Taiwan over UN bid (Channelnewsasia, 16 September 2007)
Taiwan's sad quest for U.N. membership (Japan Times, 15 September 2007)
US tells Taiwan to back down on UN vote (Straits Times, 13 September 2007)
Pentagon could make S$3.3b arms sales to Taiwan (Straits Times, 13 September 2007)
Chen Shui-bian warned of 'serious consequences' (People’s Daily, 13 September 2007