Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou made a provocative visit Jan. 28 to Taiping Island in the South China Sea—the largest natural island in the dipsuted Spratly chain. Taiwan has controlled Taiping Island (also known as Itu Aba) since 1946, but it is also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam—and, significantly, China. The island is inhabited by only 200—all Taiwanese military personnel. In his visit, Ma boasted infrastructure developments, including a new hospital and a lighthouse—but his comments made clear this was aimed at establishing what the diplomats call "facts on the ground." The island already hosts fortifications, military barracks, a hospital, radar and satellite facilities. "All this evidence fully demonstrates that Taiping Island is able to sustain human habitation and an economic life of its own," Ma said in a press release. "Taiping Island is categorically not a rock, but an island." He also officially unveiled a monument during his visit, with an inscription reaing: "Peace in the South Seas, Eternally Secure the National Borders."
Legislator Tien Chiu-chin of Taiwan's opposition Democratic Progressive Party has issued a call to her fellow lawmakers to act on restitution of traditional lands to the country's aboriginal peoples. Her comments came at a press conference Nov. 24 where she was joined by Pastor Kavas, a member of the Bunun people, who said he had been harassed by security forces as he attempted to guide a small group of scholars into a forested area usurped from the Bunun. Kavas said that while guiding National Taitung University professor Liu Chiung-shi and his assistants through the forest near Jiaming Lake in Taitung county, they were stopped by a dozen police officers, who arrested the academics, citing a breach of "national security." Ironically, despite having been designated a restricted area by the Ministry of National Defense in 1993, the area has become a popular tourist destination in recent years, Kavas said. He called restriction of Bunun access to the area "beyond belief."
In a massive display of military might, Beijing held its official "Commemoration of the Seventieth Anniversary of Victory of the Chinese People's Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and World Anti-Fascist War" Sept. 3. Thousands of troops and weaponry including four ballistic missiles filed past the reviewing stand overlooking Tiananmen Square, as warplanes flew in formation overhead. The most prominent foreign leader joining Xi Jinping on the reviewing stand was of course Vladimir Putin. Also in attendance was wanted war criminal Omar al-Bashir. The spectacle came with an announcement that China will be cutting the troop-strength of the 2.3-million-strong People's Liberation Army by 300,000, but this will be concomitant with a big push in modernization of weaponry. (Sinosphere, Global Times, Thinking Taiwan) But perhaps the most unseemly thing about the affair was the politicization of history, and efforts to assure that only the official version was heard...
The Education Ministry in Taipei has been blockaded by student protesters for five days now, and the ministry has opened talks with protest leaders. The protests were launched to oppose textbook revisions that would emphasize the "One China" view of history. Protesters attempted to occupy the ministry building on July 23; after being ejected they returned a week later, tore down a fence and established an encampment in the courtyard. The protest camp has been maintained since July 30. The action was partially sparked by the suicide of student activist Lin Kuanhua, who was among those arrested in the July 23 action. The protests have drawn comparison to last year's Sunflower Movement, in which the Legislative Yuan was occupied for 24 days to oppose the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA), decried as a "black box" deal with China that the ruling Kuomintang attempted to push through undemocratically. The new "black box" textbooks would reportedly emphasize that Taiwan is part of the "Republic of China," portrayed as the rightful government of all mainland China—even refering to the RoC's capital as Nanjing and its highest mountains as the Himalayas. Protesters are demanding that the textbook revisions be dropped and that Education Minister Wu Se-Hwa resign. (Channel NewsAsia, New Bloom, Aug. 3)
Here's another one to file under "Life's little ironies." Vietnam's Communist Party boss Nguyen Phu Trong (the country's "paramount leader") meets with Obama at the White House—a first, coming exactly 20 years after US-Hanoi diplomatic relations were restored. Why now? The Washington Post flatly states that Obama "is seeking to reconfigure a historically difficult relationship with Vietnam into a strategic partnership against China." White House officials "said Hanoi has been signaling interest in forging deeper economic and military ties with the United States," and also emphasized that Vietnam "is among the 12 nations involved in an expansive Pacific Rim trade pact." That's the Trans-Pacific Partnership—which is nearly openly conceived as a counter-measure to China's economic rise.
Amnesty International (AI) on Feb. 10 urged the Taiwanese authorities to "drop criminal charges against people solely for participating in or organizing peaceful demonstrations...after more than 100 people were charged for protesting during the so called "Sunflower Movement." AI claims that while the students and activists involved in the movement are being charged, the "police and politicians who may have carried out human rights abuses ... get away without any...investigation." They assert that it is a fundamental right to be able to demonstrate peacefully, and that "the peaceful intention of organizers...must be presumed unless there is compelling...evidence that [they] intend to use, advocate or incite imminent violence." According to AI, these actions on behalf of the authorities, in line with the Parade and Assembly Act , are in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (PDF), formally adopted by Taiwan in 2009.
In a move being openly portrayed as part of a race with the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) for hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region, China has set up a working group to study the feasibility of a Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP). The proposal comes ahead of a meeting in May of trade ministers from the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which China will host. Wang Shouwen, an assistant commerce minister, assured: "We think there will be no conflict between the FTAAP and the region's other FTAs under discussion." But reports note that the news comes just as progress of the TPP has snagged over Japanese insistence on protecting its agricultural and automotive sectors. Chinese President Xi Jinping in October said at the APEC business forum in Indonesia that Beijing will "commit itself to building a trans-Pacific regional cooperation framework that benefits all parties"—an obvious veiled criticism of the TPP. (Tax News, May 5; AFP, April 30)
As thousands of protesters blocked a main traffic artery in Taipei and clashed with police sent to clear them, Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang party agreed April 28 to halt work on two nuclear reactors. Work on the Lungmen nuclear plant, which would be Taiwan's fourth, started more than a decade ago in the island's northeast, about 20 miles outside Taipei, but has met growing opposition since the Fukushima disaster in Japan. The No. 1 reactor at Lungmen is to be sealed, while work on the No. 2 reactor will be put on hold, Premier Jiang Yi-huah said. The decision was made following negotiations with opposition parties. Jiang added that the announcement does not represent a major change in the government's energy policy, and refused to say that the Lungmen project has been permanently abandoned. (BBC News, Radio Australia, Taiwan Today, NYT's Sinosphere blog, April 28)