Giant on the move
Chronically isolated Taiwan found a powerful new friend over the past year – its once bitter adversary China. But as Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, a leading figure behind that friendship, reaches his first anniversary in office on May 20, the two sides have shown they’re ready to back away from each other again.
Ma’s first year saw what few could have imagined even two years ago, never mind 60, when Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists fled to Taiwan from China after losing the Chinese civil war to Mao Zedong’s Communists. China still claims sovereignty over democratic, self-ruled Taiwan and has threatened to take it by force if necessary. It has said the two sides must ultimately be united.
Dropping the hardball that characterised previous Taiwan presidents, Ma’s government has met counterparts from Beijing to work out the first direct flights, a new tourism accord and investment in each other’s markets, all of particular benefit to recession-hit Taiwan.
Talks leading to those deals lifted mutual confidence to where China has thundered about fighting problems overseas under Beijing’s ethnic unity banner. China has asked Taiwan, which is 98 percent ethnic Chinese, to help combat the world financial crisis, implying that both were victims of the U.S. economy. More recently it suggested uniting to fight influenza A, which also started overseas.
What exactly is China’s grand strategy? Diplomats, academics and, yes, journalists have spent countless hours, pulled out innumerable hairs and spilled endless ink trying to figure out where the fast-rising power is headed and what it will want when it gets there.
But China itself sometimes seems much less sure of its political and economic goals than outside experts believe. Great power can breed great uncertainty about what to do. A vivid illustration of that came in a speech on Friday by Zhou Xiaochuan, China’s central bank governor.
Flu bigotry is not a term one usually encounters, but that was the charge hurled at China this week when it quarantined 43 Mexicans, despite none showing symptoms of the H1N1 virus. It was not just an anti-Mexican bias, because China followed up by quarantining 22 Canadian students who were likewise free of symptoms. Many of the Mexicans had at least been on a plane with a person found to have H1N1; there was no apparent direct risk for the Canadians, other than their being from a vast country with only one serious flu case.
But before accusing China of over-reaction, let alone discrimination, it is worth stepping back to consider the quarantines from Beijing’s perspective. Just last week, the World Health Organisation said that a pandemic was imminent. Some have criticised the WHO for panicking, but governments do not have the luxury to second-guess such an authority when it rings the alarm bell.This is all the more true for China. Beijing’s laggardly response to SARS in 2003 let the disease spread to the point that authorities had to effectively shut the country down. Excessive caution this time around has been far preferable. The Chinese medical system is still rickety, rural areas lack basic hygiene and buses and trains are overcrowded – together combining to make China fertile ground for disease.A week-long quarantine is undoubtedly a deprivation of liberty. Yet if that is what it takes to prevent a global pandemic, surely the precaution is proportionate to the threat. Photo: A passenger walks past a temperature detection point for the control of H1N1 flu on arrival at Beijing Capital International Airport April 28, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Lee
By Niu Shuping and Ken Wills
Nevermind that the H1N1 “swine” flu, which has killed more than 150 people in Mexico, is not directly caused by pigs and has so far not led to any outbreaks among pigs.
Nevermind that the World Health Organization has ruled out any risk of infection to humans from eating pork.
Police should have brought sandwiches and sodas to the park outside a Taipei hotel where Taiwan negotiators and counterparts from old foe China held talks. Hardly anyone demonstrated against the mid-April meeting.
What’s more, over the weekend, as the two sides met more formally in China to sign agreements on trade and finance, Taiwan TV viewers watched news about swine flu in Mexico and the United States or celebrity scandal reruns. Monday morning newspapers’ editorials barely raised the usual spectre of Taiwan sacrificing its democratic self-rule to Communist China in exchange for lucrative trade deals.
China has long said that its biggest contribution to a world racked by financial turmoil would be to ensure that its own economy grows strongly, implying that a rising Chinese tide will lift all boats. The latest data show that Beijing has delivered on one part of the bargain; its economy, the toast of the world over the past five years, is once again ahead, far ahead, of the pack.
Many investors and companies are confident that the second part of the bargain will follow – that China’s recovery will be just the cure for markets still woozy from the financial battering. Such faith is not yet justified.
There is a strong element of farce to covering the North Korea story, which should perhaps come as no surprise considering what an unusual, isolated place it is and how hard verifiable news is to come by.
One never knows quite what to believe, with all the strange stories that seep out about Kim Jong-il’s love of pizza, the rants of North Korea’s official KCNA news agency and numerous other bizarre tales, including these two.
A proposal to have Chinese “diving prince” Tian Liang star as revolutionary model soldier Lei Feng in a television show has prompted an angry response from some of Lei’s former comrades.
Lei was idealised by Communist propagandists for his selfless spirit and devotion to the Party and the people, though some historians say his legend has been embellished.
The normally dull routine of presidential arrivals at Beijing’s airport turned into a mini-scuffle when Hugo Chavez arrived in Beijing for a “working visit” that he sprung on the Chinese about a month ago. The Chinese Foreign Ministry wasn’t eager for Chavez to mar the ceremony with a long-winded speech to the press, even though the Venezuelan embassy had invited journalists to the airport.
As we gathered on bleachers set up about 30 yards from the waiting staircases, the television crews decided to call Chavez over for an inpromptu question-and-answer session. Immediately, the staircases were wheeled away to another spot, more than double the distance from the journalists and certainly well out of earshot.
As the plane slowly approached, the large Chinese and Venezuelan welcoming delegation began walking towards the red carpet, far, far away from us. But then a Venezuelan doubled back and gestered to the press. A break! Journalists sprinted towards the plane, dodging the airport security guards.
A furious argument ensued, as security guards tried to shove reporters back while maintaining some decorum with the embassy representatives. Chavez descended the stairs, grinning amidst the chaos. At the end of the carpet, he turned and began to talk to reporters, while the Chinese guards tried to edge him towards the cars. A few minutes of talking, with no end in sight, made them more impatient. Amid a new round of pushing, Chavez himself got bumped.
from Global News Journal:
By Jon Herskovitz
North Korea says somewhere up in the sky, a satellite it launched at the weekend is beaming to earth two revolutionary paeans: "Song of General Kim Il-sung" for the founder of the reclusive state and "Song of General Kim Jong-il," for the son who succeeded him when he died.