A week of diplomatic setbacks for China but a week of gains for Japan

Updated On: May 04, 2007

China has had a tough week while Japan has a productive one with its energy diplomacy.

The resumption of diplomatic relations between arch-rival Taiwan and the Caribbean state of St Lucia prompted a protest of indignation and opposition as well as allegations of money politics by the Chinese foreign ministry. Taiwan's Foreign Minister James Huang signed the communique of establishment of ties with his counterpart Rufus Bousquet on 30 April 2007, the island's deputy foreign minister. This is a major victory for Taiwan and a major source of embarrassment forChina. With St Lucia, 25 countries now recognise Taipei.

"The resumption of diplomatic relations between St Lucia and Taiwan is a flagrant violation of the declaration on the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and St Lucia," Foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said. "It also constitutes interference in the internal affairs of China," he said in a statement posted on the foreign ministry website. He urged St Lucia to rethink the decision or "be responsible for the consequences incurred."

The St Lucia shock is not the only source of anger for BeijingTaipei has made its move on Beijing’s most important coming-of-age event, embarrassing it by demanding a change of the route of the Olympic torch relay. Mr Tsai Chen-wei, chairman of the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee wrote a letter to the Beijing Olympic Games (BOCOG) on April 20, saying, "The current evolution of many issues are out of our sports community's control. Taiwan's status as an independent sovereign state would be degraded if the Olympic flame travels to Hong Kong via Taipei, so my authorities request that the relay enter into Taipei and exit Taipeithrough third-party countries."

Jiang Xiaoyu, executive vice-president and spokesman of the Organizing Committee for the BOCOG expressed his surprise at Taiwan's call to change the route of the Olympic torch relay. His statement read as follows: “…The BOCOG has learned from media reports that Taiwan authorities and the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee said that they could not accept the planned route of the 2008 Beijing Olympics torch relay and we are surprised.”

These setbacks come amidst a backdrop of waning popular interest in China-Taiwan rapprochement. China has tried to woo the Taiwanese public with more economic sweeteners unveiled at an annual cross-strait forum in Beijing attended by Taiwan opposition veteran Lien Chan. This is a follow-up economic offensive after earlier efforts to get Taiwan to open up to big-spending mainland tourists failed due to official governmental opposition. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government, which seeks to separate Taiwan formally from China, scuttled these moves through insistence on these visits being framed as 'country-to-country tourism'.

Beijing fought the DPP’s blocks by countering with more incentives such as cross-strait education exchanges, greater employment choices for Taiwanese on the mainland, allowance for Taiwanese universities to recruit mainland students, permitting Taiwanese residents to take qualifying examinations for 15 professions in China and letting Taiwanese businessmen invest in wholly owned shipping and container transport firms and operate ports and highways on the mainland. However, the greatest obstacles in the Beijing-KMT teamster are internally-driven. Beijing is beginning to have doubts about the strength of KMT’s ability to re-take power from the DPP as the KMT gets embroiled in court troubles. DPP seems likely to return to power again.

Beijing’s tough week extends to its economic diplomacy in other regions as well. Nine Chinese and a number of Ethiopians working for a Chinese oil company were killed while seven other Chinese were kidnapped in the attack by more than 200 unidentified gunmen.

While China is experiencing difficulties with its economic initiatives for the oil industry in AfricaJapan, meanwhile, is also on an energy diplomatic offensive in theMiddle East, with much greater success. Even Abe’s trip to the US is peppered with Middle Eastern initiatives. At the summit between PM Shinzo Abe and President Bush, the two leaders also resolved to continue cooperation on Iraq's reconstruction.

Along with global trends, especially in the scramble for nuclear power in East AsiaJapan’s Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Akira Amari (accompanied by top executives from 29 Japanese companies, 150-member strong including public servants) and Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov issued a joint statement aimed to increase Kazakhstan's uranium supply to Japan. Under the proposed arrangement, 24 deals were signed and Kazakh's share of Japan's uranium imports could increase exponentially to 30 percent to 40 percent, up from the current 1 percent while Kazakhstan secured Toshiba’s help in building nuclear power plants.

"Both sides share the recognition that Japan and Kazakhstan are mutually complimentary and strategic partners, and hope that they will develop multilayered and cooperative relations," the joint statement said, citing Japan's world-class civil nuclear technology and Kazakhstan's massive uranium reserves. "Both sides hope that the development of such cooperative relations will help raise each country's reputation as those who promote the peaceful use of nuclear power," it said.

Kazakhstan has the world's second-largest uranium reserves after Australia and is tipped to replace Australia (33% of Japan’s market share) and Canada (27% ofJapan’s market share) as Japan’s largest supplier of uranium. Both countries have been the focus of raw materials procurement by East Asian giants China andJapan. After the Kazakh energy diplomatic energy offensive, Amari leaves Japan for UzbekistanSaudi Arabia and Brunei, all of which are energy-rich countries.

While Kazakhstan may be important for uranium diplomacy, Saudi Arabia is crucial as a partner for oil cooperation. Abe’s Middle Eastern diplomacy marks many firsts. Starting from Saturday 28 April 2007, Abe's trip to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab EmiratesKuwaitQatar and Egypt marks his first visit to the oil-richMiddle East since assuming office and it will also mark the first visit to Kuwait by a Japanese prime minister. Symbolisms are rich in this trip. Abe’s visit will feature a morale booster for Japan’s 200 Air Self-Defense Force personnel stationed at the Ali Al Salem Air Base in Kuwait.

The Japan Business Federation, the nation's most influential business lobby known as Nippon Keidanren send a whopping 175-member delegation to accompany Abe as a "symbolic gesture" to the people in the Middle East to show that Japan's relationship with the region is "widening and broadening in scope and coverage". It also breaks the tradition of hiding business interests in the background as Deputy Press Secretary Tomohiko Taniguchi reiterated Tokyo it is "no longer shy in addressing business interests which . . . make up a very important element of Japan's national interest as a whole." Japan is marking its ascendancy as an assertive big economic power in its own right.  (3 May 2007)


China voices 'indignation' over Taiwan move (Channelnewsasia, 1 May 2007)

Kazakhstan eyes uranium supply deal with Japan (Japan Times, 1 May 2007)

China's charm offensive on Taiwan is failing, say analysts (Straits Times, 30 April 2007)

Abe looking for oil on Middle East trip (Japan Times, 29 April 2007)

Surprise over Taipei's Olympic torch call (People’s Daily, 28 April 2007)

Turning Bush-Abe Alliance Into Friendship (NY Times, 27 April 2007)

Japan Premier to Visit a Politically Changed Washington (NY Times, 26 April 2007)

Ethiopian troops start hunt for seized Chinese workers (People’s Daily, 26 April 2007)

China strongly condemns attack on Chinese oil company site in Ethiopia (People’s Daily, 25 April 2007)