Saturday, 28 April 2007

Chinese President Holds Talks With GMD Leader In Beijing

In another shot in the propaganda war between Beijing and the pro-independence Taiwanese President, Chen Shui Bian, Chinese President Hu Jintao has held talks with the Honorary Chairman of the Guo Min Dang, Lien Chan at the Great Hall of the People. Lien Chan was among 300 Taiwanese dignitaries meeting as part of the Cross-Strait Economic and Trade Forum.

The Forum will be discussing issues such as direct cross straits flights, education and the regulations governing mainlanders' travel to Taiwan.

Source: China Central Television

Beijing Torch Relay Controversy

With the Chinese government calling in talent such as Zhang Yimou to direct the opening ceremony and controversial plans to send the Olympic torch through Tibet and Taiwan, the 2008 Olympics are arguably shaping up as an unprecedented propaganda opportunity for Beijing.

The planned Taipei leg of the torch relay has prompted criticism from Taiwanese officials who view it as an blatant attempt to undermine their "sovereignty". It is understood that Taipei is uncomfortable being included in the torch's domestic route and will only consider participating if the torch enters the island from a territory external of Chinese sovereignty.

Furthermore, in a move tipped to spark more protests and internal unrest, the Olympic torch is also scheduled to pass through Tibet where only this week four US citizens were arrested for posting a banner calling for the region's independence.

Mao's Second Son Dies

The last known surviving son of Mao Zedong, Mao Anqing has died in Beijing at the age of 84. Born in Changsha in 1923, Anqing was the second son of Mao and Yang Kaihui. His mother was brutally executed by a warlord in 1930, and Mao fondly recalled her as the love of his life. Anqing was sent to Moscow, where he remained until 1947 and fought for the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany in the Second World War.

After returning to China, he fought with his brother in the Korean War. His brother died in action in 1950 as a result of a prolonged American air raid on Chinese forces. After the war, Anqing was periodically admitted into mental institutions, with many blaming his wartime action and an earlier police beating for his mental illness.

Anqing was later employed by the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences and the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party to translate Marxist materials from Russian into Chinese. He was also the author of several party approved biographies of his father.

He is survived son, Mao Xinyu and grandson, Mao Dongdong who are believed to be the only surviving male descendants of Mao Zedong.

Sources: Xinhua News Agency and The Independent.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

China Set to Become World's Largest Polluter By November

A leading environmental economist has predicted that China will become the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases by November. Previous estimates indicated that China would overtake the US by 2009 or 2010, but the rise and rise of the Chinese economy and its dependence on carbon emmissions threaten to bring the date forward to the latter half of this year.

China's participation in multilateral processes on climate change has long been a point of contention among analysts with some claiming Beijing's public commitments to emissions reduction are nothing short of disingenuous. Moreover, despite being a party to the Kyoto protocol, as a developing country China has no formal target for emission reductions.

Dr Faith Birol, from the Intenational Energy Agency asserts that within 25 years China will "double the CO2 emissions which will come from all the OECD countries put together - the whole US, plus Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand" .

If China is serious about combating climate change, it will need to fundamentally reform its bureaucratic and economic structures. Last year, the Environment Minister claimed that despite the emergence of tough new laws designed to clamp down on polluting industries, businesses simply bribed local officials to issue compliance certificates.

At least on face value however, the Chinese appear to be serious about changing their image especially in the preparation for next year's Olympics. I remember watching a government advetisement on Beijing Television last year, which called for Beijing's citizens to take public transport at least one day a week in the name of a 'green Beijing'. Beijing is abundant with rumours the government will close down factories around the city for months before the summer olympics and ban all traffic from entering the city throughout the duration of the games.
Sources: The Guardian

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Taiwan: Reading the Green Tea Leaves

Security analysts have long pondered the implications of any military conflict between mainland China and Taiwan. Any conflict has been presented as the gravest threat to international security short of a North Korean or Iranian nuclear strike. The Taiwan issue is a relic from old Cold War security paradigms intertwined with a renewed mainland nationalism and an assertive leadership in Taipei. Furthermore, the international community is ill-equipped to intervene in a conflict involving a sovereign state and an entity effectively unrecognised by the majority of states.
While not wanting to play down the severity of the issue nor the entrenched sentiment of the mainland and the Taiwanese alike, I argue that the issue isn't as clear cut as is often portrayed in the international media. It is not as if hardline Chinese are gagging to invade the tiny island, nor are the overwhelming majority of Taiwanese busting to declare independence.

An expert in Chinese strategic policy argues that since economic modernisation and the continued pressures associated with Taiwanese growth, the mainland has been exercising a policy of 'tightening the economic noose' in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Simply, cheap labour and the mainland manufacturing base firmly hold Taiwanese prosperity hostage to the western side of the Taiwan straits. Roughly 75% of the Taiwanese economy is dependent on the mainland and any declaration of independence threatens to undermine the quintessential liberal-democratic success story that is Taiwan.

Furthermore, public opinion in Taiwan is deeply divided on independence and indeed the wider fabric of Taiwanese identity is starkly wedged between loyalty to a distinctly 'Chinese' culture and to a Taiwanese construct of identity. A British survey of more than 3000 Taiwanese residents demonstrated that 45% support independence, 45% support the status quo/reunification and the remainding 10% support becoming an American state! Most Taiwanese are at a loss to identify themselves with any particular cultural construct or nation-state -- some claim to be Chinese, others Chinese-Taiwanese, Taiwanese-Chinese and some Taiwanese.
It seems that Taiwan's pro-independence President Chen Shui-Bian holds many of the cards that will determine the future of China's nationalism and indeed the wider survival of multilateral security. Once again, opinion in Taiwan is divided regarding support for Chen's government and its policy priorities. The trend from most reputable opinion polls points to 50% support for Chen and 50% for the opposition, pro-reunification Guo Min Dang party.

To make reading the tea leaves that much harder, Chen's presidency has been rocked with serious corruption scandals and allegations of graft and bribery have dogged the First Family. As the bearer of the highest office in the land, Chen is immune from prosecution yet mass protests calling for his resignation continue to undermine his reform agenda.

My concern is that whilst the corruption scandals continue to dominate headlines and threaten Chen's legacy, the president may use the independence card to distract public attention and manipulate global interest in Beijing stemming from the 2008 Olympics. There is still talk of a referendum on a new Taiwanese constitution that is the alleged forerunner to a declaration of independence and I fear that in the spirit of desperate politicians, Chen may turn to this as a means to his legacy.

A Taiwanese declaration in the Olympics year would certainly test the patience of Beijing. I cannot imagine an assertive military response in the middle of 2008 -- with 30,000 foreign journalists in Beijing garnering global attention, a missile strike threatening the 'self-determination of the Taiwanese people' wouldn't look good for a nation trying to present a benevolent image for the 21st century.

With the Olympics and increasing domestic pressure on Chen, 2008 could be a dangerous year for cross strait relations. It will be a year to watch at both ends of the straits.

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