The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics -

Tai­wan suf­fered col­lat­eral dam­age in Viet­nam’s an­tiChina ri­ots on May 13, when 107 Taiwanese com­pa­nies were van­dal­ized and 10 fac­to­ries were shut down.

But the in­ci­dent crys­tal­lized Taipei’s awk­ward in­ter­na­tional po­si­tion in the con­flicts en­gulf­ing China and sev­eral of its neigh­bors, in­clud­ing Tai­wan.

At least two Chi­nese na­tion­als were con­firmed dead in the ri­ots, and Sino-Viet­namese ten­sions have reached a new high. The ri­ots oc­curred in re­sponse to Bei­jing’s in­stal­la­tion of an oil rig near the Para­cel Is­lands that China took from Viet­nam in 1974 af­ter a naval bat­tle.

Ap­par­ently, the Viet­namese demon­stra­tors were un­able to tell the Chi­nese from the Taiwanese dur­ing the protests.

In the aftermath, Taipei rushed to sup­ply Taiwanese na­tion­als in Viet­nam with more than 20,000 large stick­ers, writ­ten in both Viet­namese and English, say­ing “I am from Tai­wan” to tell fu­ture at­tack­ers that they are not the in­tended tar­get of their vi­o­lence.

The big­ger prob­lem for Tai­wan is re­lated to the is­land democ­racy’s ex­is­ten­tial angst: How can Taipei dis­tin­guish and dis­tance it­self from Bei­jing in ter­ri­to­rial claims made by both gov­ern­ments with­out of­fend­ing China’s com­mu­nist govern­ment, which claims all of Tai­wan as its own?

Specif­i­cally, since the Para­cel Is­lands are claimed by Viet­nam, China and Tai­wan, should Taipei also protest Bei­jing’s in­stal­la­tion of an oil rig there?

The fact that Taiwanese Pres­i­dent Ma Ying-jeou’s ad­min­is­tra­tion did not lodge any protest against China’s oil-rig gam­bit has given Bei­jing an op­por­tu­nity to ex­ploit the Ma govern­ment’s weak­ness and push a plan for Tai­wan to join its ef­fort as a “uni­fied Chi­nese” voice to re­buff Viet­nam’s claim in the re­gion.

That would nul­lify Tai­wan’s le­git­i­macy as a de facto in­de­pen­dent state with its own sov­er­eign claims.

Taiwanese of­fi­cials now are try­ing to crys­tal­lize Tai­wan’s of­fi­cial po­si­tion on this and other ex­is­ten­tial mat­ters af­firm­ing is­land’s self-rule sta­tus. Of­fi­cials must act quickly to ex­tin­guish crit­i­cism from the pub­lic and op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers.

“There will be no space for co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two sides of the Tai­wan Strait!” said Wu Mei-hong, spokes­woman for the Taiwanese govern­ment when asked May 15 to re­spond to Bei­jing’s call for joint ac­tion against Viet­nam.

On the same day, Taiwanese For­eign Min­is­ter David Lin is­sued an em­phatic mes­sage to the pub­lic dur­ing a hear­ing in the leg­is­la­ture. When asked by an op­po­si­tion law­maker why he had not con­vened an in­ter­na­tional press con­fer­ence to de­clare that Tai­wan is not part of China, Mr. Lin replied: “We and the Chi­nese main­land do not have a hi­er­ar­chi­cal own­er­ship re­la­tion­ship.” (In other words, China does not own Tai­wan and Tai­wan does not be­long to China.)

This is dif­fer­ent, in tone at least, from the cur­rent po­si­tion of Mr. Ma, who pro­posed an “East Sea Peace Ini­tia­tive” a few years ago in which he asked for in­ter­na­tional shar­ing of nat­u­ral re­sources in dis­puted ar­eas of the Pa­cific with­out in­sist­ing on each na­tion’s sovereignty claims.

But China does not be­lieve in ei­ther shar­ing nat­u­ral re­sources or min­i­miz­ing the is­sue of sovereignty dis­putes with all of its mar­itime neigh­bors. Bei­jing con­sis­tently has dra­ma­tized sovereignty dis­putes with its neigh­bors, while urg­ing Tai­wan to merge its claims with China’s over South China Sea is­lands and ter­ri­to­ries.

Mean­while, Viet­nam also is fo­cused on Tai­wan’s dilemma and is work­ing to drive a wedge be­tween Bei­jing and Taipei.

Since the ri­ots, Hanoi’s chief diplo­matic rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Taipei, Bui Trong Van, of­fered re­peated pub­lic and of­fi­cial apolo­gies to the Taiwanese govern­ment and the Taiwanese people for the col­lat­eral dam­age, promis­ing com­pen­sa­tion for the van­dal­ized prop­er­ties and fur­ther tax cuts for Taiwanese businesses in Viet­nam.

Cur­rently, hun­dreds of Taiwanese en­ter­prises are in Viet­nam, with a to­tal di­rect in­vest­ment of more than $28 bil­lion.

Miles Yu’s col­umn ap­pears Fridays. He can be reached at and @Yu_Miles.

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