The Pacific Rim has far too many bubbling tensions for the good of global stability and world trade. Territorial disputes are becoming more serious between Japan, China and South Korea, never mind growing maritime claims further afield in the South China Sea.
Therefore, it is good news that one of the region’s oldest clashes — between China and Taiwan — is mellowing slightly. This week’s warm meeting between Taiwan’s Nationalist Chairman, Eric Chu, and Chinese President Xi Jinping was the highest level contact between the two sides in six years.
Any sign of rapprochement is controversial in Taiwan, where many people still hold onto memories of the terrible civil war that ended in 1949 with the nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek fleeing to Taiwan and the Communists under Mao Zedong holding the rest of China. Despite this heritage, Chu’s party, the Kuomintang (KMT), wants closer relations with China and has regained power from the Democratic Progressive Party, which favours a formal declaration of independence and a complete split from China.
It may be that Xi is using this meeting to indicate that China wants to show the Taiwanese people that Chu is someone China can work with, and he is trying to influence the presidential vote next year when Xi must hope that Chu’s KMT will defeat the DPP.
It is important that China and Taiwan are willing to put aside their obvious differences and find more ways in which they can normalise their relations. The Chinese formula for this is summed up as “One China, Two systems” and that has been the way that China has cooperated with Hong Kong, which may not be an example that the Taiwanese are keen to follow.
One indication of how the two countries might start cooperating better is Taiwan’s application to join the China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, AIIB, which was initially rejected outright by China but now Beijing has said that it would welcome an application by Taiwan under an “appropriate” name. That will be a challenge for the diplomats!