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World Opinion Roundup by Jefferson Morley

Courting the Dragon

Asian Democracies Prefer to Focus on Strengthening Ties to China Over Taiwan

By Jefferson Morley
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 15, 2005; 7:38 AM

With China talking tough on Taiwan, the U.S. allies in the region are talking nice to Beijing.

The Chinese government’s adoption Monday of an anti-secession law threatening military action against the island if it seeks independence has revived some fears of China’s geopolitical ambitions. In the Washington Post, Robert Kagan warns of China’s "growing belligerence."

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But coverage of the move in the international online media has also illuminated China’s diplomatic and military strength. From South Korea to Japan to the Philippines to Australia, many democratic Asian nations seem to prefer accommodating China to challenging its claim to Taiwan.

No one in Asia is expecting war to break out, but the perennial tension between China and Taiwan has taken on a new tone. In both China and Taiwan, the euphemism of the day is "non-peaceful."

The Taipei Timesreports the ruling party in Taiwan is drafting a bill to give President Chen Shui-bian "the power to take ’non-peaceful’ action or other necessary measures . . . in order to safeguard Taiwan’s sovereignty and territory."

In Beijing, the government-controlled People’s Daily Onlinehailed the anti-secession law as a popular measure, "epitomizing the ’common will and strong resolve’ of the entire Chinese people" to prevent Taiwanese independence by peaceful means if possible -- and "non-peaceful" measures if necessary.

Judging from news coverage and commentary, U.S. allies in the region are wary about getting drawn into any such "non-peaceful" conflict.

In Japan, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi issued a bland statement expressing the hope that the two parties would work out their differences, according to Japan Today.

In South Korea, President Roh Moo-hyun said last week that his country would not allow the United States to use its territory for conflicts elsewhere in Asia, according to the JoongAng Daily.

"The United States Forces in Korea will continue to play important roles," Roh said during a graduation ceremony at the South Korean Air Force Academy. "But I clearly say that the USFK should not be involved in disputes in Northeast Asia without Korea’s agreement."

The paper commented that Roh’s remarks "are considered his first official reaction to Washington’s new military strategy, known as global repositioning for strategic flexibility. The U.S. plan is aimed at turning American soldiers at bases around the world into rapid deployment forces. . . . Some observers, however, have expressed concern the shift may one day lead U.S. forces in Korea into a possible conflict between China and Taiwan."

Roh never mentioned Taiwan in his speech, but the Taiwan-based China Post said his meaning was clear.

"We do not expect President Roh to compromise his country’s fundamental national interests for the sake of supporting a fellow democracy here in Taiwan. But we would expect the South Korean leader to be more sensitive about our precarious position by refraining from making public remarks that undercut our security position."

But amidst news reports on the anti-secession law, two other Asian democracies took care to underscore their desire for good relations with China.

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