One China dilemmaThe international community did not pay much attention, but recently, President Benigno Aquino of the Philippines made a clever move that shook the fundamentals of Chinese foreign policy. Recently, a Taiwanese fisherman died in a fatal shooting by the Philippine Coast Guard, and Taiwan has been demanding an apology, compensation, a thorough investigation and a reprimand of the person responsible for the shooting since the incident on May 9. The Philippines then made an apology and pledged to investigate the incident.
But with President Aquino’s apology, he tampered with the root of Chinese diplomacy. At first, he apologized through the Philippine representative in Taipei. The two countries do not have a formal diplomatic relationship, and the apology was made not through the embassy but through the representative. But Taiwan demanded a government-level apology and protested more intensely, so the Philippine presidential spokesman made another apology, which mentions the Taiwanese and the victim’s family, not the Taiwanese government. Also, he added that the Philippines respects the principle of “One China.” All nations with diplomatic ties with China recognize the PRC as the only legitimate cross-strait government. So the Philippines were supposed to apologize to the Chinese government, not Taiwan, if they have to. Refusing to be part of China, a further outraged Taiwan created an 11-item sanction against the Philippines, but President Aquino did not change his position.
Beijing’s reaction was rather unexpected. It should have expressed appreciation for President Aquino and led the negotiations with the Filipino government instead of Taipei. However, the Chinese foreign ministry denounced the shooting and extended full support for Taiwan’s actions. The media is busy attacking the Philippines and urges it to work with Taiwan against the arrogant Philippines. The military authorities have sent a fleet to the South China Sea, posing military pressure on the Philippines. It seems that a local government with no diplomatic power is negotiating with a third country, and the central government is supporting the move. China has designated Taiwan as the 23rd province in its administrative district structure.
Of course, China must have its own concerns. If Beijing negotiates with the Philippines, they would have to face Taiwan’s opposition and there is a risk of reviving the “Taiwanese independence movement ” led by former president Chen Shui-bian (2000-2008). Japan is helping the “Return to Asia” strategy of the United States, and if the relationship with Taiwan worsens, Japan may want to get involved in cross-strait affairs. But acceding to Taiwan’s diplomatic position would lead to a self-contradiction of the One China policy it had agreed on with all diplomatic partners. It is directly related to the confidence of Chinese diplomacy. A Chinese foreign policy official privately confessed, “Taking reality into consideration would shake the root of foreign policy, and standing by the principle would backfire.”
* The writer is the Beijing bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Choi Hyung-kyu