What’s cooking in Northeast Asia?

Updated On: Feb 02, 2007

Northeast Asia is seeing a flurry of activities of late.

Sino-Japanese ties is improving and moving along, the 6-party talks seems to show some promise but Taiwan’s President Chen Shui Bian is throwing a spanner into the works by announcing the revision of textbooks, raising Chinese unhappiness.

The rush of activities between the two regional powers has been taking place at a breathtaking pace despite the existence of many outstanding issues. After the meeting between Japanese and Chinese scholars to arrive at a common understanding of history, China’s state broadcaster CCTV has begun the production of a high-profile documentary “Yan Song Looks At Japan” on contemporary Japanese society to provide a cool-headed and rational look at East Asia’s economic power.

This follows closely on the heels of yet another amazingly candid officially-sanctioned documentary “Daguo Jueqi” (The Rise of Big Powers) in China which featuredJapan as one of the Big Powers of modern times. While political motives are behind such production and are carefully coordinated with the upcoming fence-mending visit to Japan by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, the fact that these documentaries are even shown is a testimony to the flexibility and pragmatism shown by the Chinese leadership in dealing with Post-Koizumi Japan. Clearly, the Chinese government wants to reverse years of downturn in relations during the Koizumi era.

It is not a one-sided maneuver. The Yasukuni Shrine, at the centre of the bilateral storm, has even toned down the ultra-nationalist stance of the museum on its premises. And to help out with the making of the Chinese documentary, the Japanese embassy in Beijing and Japan’s state broadcaster NHK has pledged their logistics support for the production. This is a massive sea change, a definite positive spin, as China's state-controlled media has hitherto focused on Japan's apparent refusal to face up to its World War II misdeeds.

CCTV is not the only broadcaster to make this move. Since Mr Abe's visit to China, numerous Chinese TV stations have approached the Japanese Embassy inBeijing to film documentaries on Japan. It is a glimpse of things to come as long as there is political will in both countries to make up. The latest documentary will include sensitive topics like wartime apologies, including an interview with former PM Tomiichi Murayama, the first Japanese leader to apologise unambiguously for the country's wartime actions. The message is clear: repair the troubled ties and focus on the positives.

Meanwhile, ties are also looking up in the Korean Peninsula. The next round of six-party talks is expected to resume early next month. "Right now, what we have to do is create a good atmosphere both for the US and North Korea . When a centrifugal force appears we should draw them together, while providing incentives at times, or sometimes we should give words of wisdom. Right now, what we have to do is to support the six-party talks," said President Roh of South Korea.

South Korea’s support seemed to have paid off a little as its Northern counterpart has reached out with a proposal to hold joint celebrations for upcoming national festivals. An Kyong Ho, chairman of the North Side's Committee for Implementation of June 15 Joint Declaration, suggested both sides hold joint events on 15 June 2007 in Pyongyang to mark the 7th anniversary of the signing of the June 15 joint declaration and also jointly host a reunification function should be held on 15 August 2007 in Seoul. The event commemorates the historic 15 June 2000 South-North Joint Declaration which promotes reunification.

An exception to this general atmosphere of goodwill in Northeast Asia is the Taiwan issue. The embattled President Chen Shui-bian is resorting to all possible provocation with the mainland in the hope to distract domestic attention away from the scandals plaguing his presidency. On instructions from Taiwan's "ministry of education", terms like "our country," "this country" and "the mainland" in the textbooks have been changed to "China". This immediately provoked a reaction fromChina. "We've noticed the developments. The political motive behind it is to transform the island's education into an ideological tool for 'Taiwan independence'," said Yang Yi, spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council.

In another earlier shocking move to culturalists all over Greater China, the President has authorized Taiwan's venerable national palace museum to remove all the labels that identified half a million exhibits as originating from the Chinese mainland.  The resolution was adopted by Taiwan's "Executive Yuan" on January 17, barring the museum from identifying its exhibits as transported from the Imperial Palace in Beijing.

While President Chen’s political maneuvers is designed to distract attention away from the scandals surrounding his family, the opposition Kuomintang have their own bag of tricks in countering Chen’s move with Beijing’s blessings. In a symbol of rapprochement, senior Kuomintang official Wang Jin-pyng, the "president" of the "Legislative Yuan" of Taiwan, may visit his ancestral home in East China's Fujian Province sometime in 2007. This visit is likely to create a media frenzy to offset pro-independence Taiwanese’s attempts to upset the mainland and provoke a strong response for rallying support around the opposition in Taiwan. (01/2/07)


Taiwan textbook revision slammed (China Daily, 1 Feb 2007)

DPRK calls on South Korea to hold joint celebrations (People’s Daily, 31 Jan 2007)

China uses TV to signal warmer ties with Japan (Straits Times, 30 Jan 2007)

Taiwan's Chen raps China over missile arsenal (Channelnewsasia, 28 Jan 2007)

Chinese Premier to visit Japan in April (Korea Herald, 28 Jan 2007)

Roh rules out summit with North Korea until six-party nuclear talks make progress (Channelnewsasia, 25 Jan 2007)