Saturday, June 14, 2008

Nearly Perfect

By way of contrast to the New York Times piece I blogged on the other day, Jason Dean of the Wall Street Journal delivers a nuanced, balanced piece that shows real understanding of relations between Taiwan and China. Unfortunately it is behind the Dow Jones pay wall.

The first formal talks between China and Taiwan in nine years reached deals to expand tourism and to partly roll back a decades-old ban on direct air traffic between the two rivals, extending a burgeoning détente in one of Asia's historical flashpoints.

Note how the political nature of the talks is clearly foreground. The negotiations are about 'burgeoning detente', not strengthening 'economic relations.' The incremental nature of the agreement is also carefully referred: 'expand tourism' and 'partly roll back'. A style grump though is that I can't really see how 'burgeoning', which is a horticultural word meaning to grow or to blossom, can correctly describe 'detente' which means a relaxing or easing.

The two-day talks, which began Thursday in Beijing, are the latest sign that China's government is responding positively to efforts by Taiwan's new president, Ma Ying-jeou, to improve ties despite lingering disagreements about core political issues.

Dean gets the agency of these inherently political talks correct. Beijing is now choosing to respond positively. Implicitly, it did not respond positively to the previous DPP government despite the fact that the same incremental improvements were on the table before. Beijing claimed before that Taiwan would have to acknowledge Beijing's one China principle. However, it is worth noting that other than in the meeting between Hu Jintao and Chiang Pin-kun, the 1992 Hong Kong consensus was never mentioned in the talks, nor did it appear in the agreement reached yesterday.

Back 2006, Chen Shui-bian basically offered exactly the same thing:

First, I have already said that both sides of the strait should handle the "one China" issue on the existing foundation and adhere to the principles of democracy and parity. I have also said that the existing foundation includes the spirit of 1992, which is dialogue, exchanges, and shelving controversial disputes. Today, it is not a problem of what we can or cannot discuss, for there are many things that cannot be avoided. Although we may not talk, we still cannot avoid this issue.

Then Beijing did not respond positively because it had demonized Chen Shui-bian. To their shame, most of the China-based international media went along for the ride.

Back to the Wall Street Journal account:

Mr. Ma took office May 20 promising a "new era" of peace and economic normalization with China. The eight-year tenure of his predecessor, Chen Shui-bian, was dominated by disputes over Beijing's claims to sovereignty over Taiwan and by Mr. Chen's efforts to assert the island's independence.

It probably would have been worth pointing out that Chen also came to office promising the same things and ended up with the same incremental approach based on the method of setting aside the sovereignty issue. Perhaps that is why Dean has placed "new era" in quotes.

In any event, the description of relationship across the straits during Chen's presidency is a model of balance: Beijing claimed sovereignty while Chen Shui-bian asserted independence.

It's also worth pointing out that unlike Wong (or his editors), Dean never uses the politically loaded term 'the mainland' to describe China. Throughout the article, China is China and Taiwan is Taiwan. Confucius would have been proud of this correct
use of names in the face of pressure to use wrong ones.

The rest of article sets out the details with the precision one expects from the Journal. Unlike the Times, the Journal gets the currency exchange news correct. To be fair, they had an extra day to check.

Finally, Dean points out that Taiwan-China relations do not exist in vacuum:

The improvement in cross-strait ties has been welcomed by officials in the U.S., which is Taiwan's most important international friend. The current talks come amid criticism over U.S. arms sales that threatens to complicate relations between Washington, Taipei and Beijing.

If and when Taiwan buys arms from the US, especially the 66 F-16 fighter jets, China's positive response to Taiwan will be tested.

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