(…for expanded economic hegemony in East Asia)

The presidents of both Taiwan and China will be meeting for talks in Singapore shortly, after more than a half century of each opposing and pretending that the other had no right to exist. Frankly, it’s about time that common sense and pragmatism overcame the residues of ideological rigidities about the issue of who represents China…and who doesn’t.

Unfortunately Cold War geopolitical factors kept getting in the way for resolving that issue between them. Mutually conflicting ideologies simply wouldn’t allow it. That is, the Mao/Communist collective viewed the Kuomintang elites which had taken refuge in Taiwan…as break-away renegades…which had to be brought back into the fold by whatever means necessary. For their part, those exiled Kuomintang elites viewed the new mainland communist overlords…as liberty-crushing usurpers…which had to be resisted at any cost, etc., etc., etc.

All of which led to a seemingly eternal rigid bi-polar situation, made even more so and exacerbated by events in Korea, and later, with Vietnam, which brought the US into direct involvement with those contentions between these two. We might even suggest that the personal Mao/Chiang Kai Chek animus was the root causative factor for the development of the American concept of “containment” as its anti-communist foreign policy in East Asia. Viewed in that context and perspective, America’s actions from Korea through Vietnam, and its collateral efforts to establish an East Asian version of its NATO alliances (SEATO) are more understandable.

But such situations are never static. Over time the matrices involved within them change, one might even say…evolve…and once the Maoist and Kuomintang “old guards” were gone, economic and other practicalities became the influencing factors, rather than ideology, governing both bi-lateral and multi-lateral relationships among all the national interests involved. One of the first of these was the Nixon administration’s realization that continuing to pretend that Communist China did not exist…was an idiotic and no-win proposition. Concurrently, Communist China realized that without American and others’ trade connections, its economy had no real future, and, without that, its position of influence in the region would remain negligible.

The consequences of that mutual “denouement” in Sino-American relations have resulted in what we have today in East Asia. Step by step, decade after decade, “hot” conflicts were replaced by diplomatic and economic maneuvers instead, while American economic and military hegemony sustaining it all.

But, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the consolidation of the European Union, and the rise of Islamist militancy, culminating with the events of 9/11 and the hot conflicts that followed, American interests shifted, becoming more internally focused on homeland defense and anti-terrorism, regardless of any pressures for maintaining some pretence of dominance in East Asia, and thus creating an apparent “vacuum” of influence there, which is seen as a grand opportunity to be more than willingly filled by China.

Which is where we are today, and it remains to be seen how well China succeeds in doing so.

In any event, while this latest move is part and parcel of its efforts to expand its influence in the region, there’s an underlying economic factor involved behind it. If it can successfully resolve its issues with Taiwan, that will open pathways to much stronger economic conditions for both, and, one of the most beneficial results from these upcoming talks would be if both could agree to the following: Taiwan would accept to re-declare itself as – The Republic of Taiwan – dropping its claims to mainland China. Conversely, China would accept that form of independence from it, and be prepared to sponsor the “new” Republic of Taiwan for formal UN membership, thus allowing both to establish mutual diplomatic relations, and with open mutually agreeable economic and other links (rather than by their existing back channel and sub-rosa exchanges).

For Taiwan, this would once again provide it with the full diplomatic recognition it once had, thus enhancing its economic potentials beyond what they are already. Conversely, for China, there would no longer be the potential for military conflict between them, and it would acquire an ally to further its hegemonic economic influence in the region. More importantly such a move would still help retain American presence in the region, but without any major confrontational issues to gum up the works between them. Lastly, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, and Indonesia would all tend to react positively to such a development, further stabilizing the entire region for all.

While some might view this as further proof that China is making strategic stealth moves for expanded economic hegemony in East Asia, in many ways, and from a broad global perspective, that would not preclude continued American influence and presence as a strong participant in such a matrix. It would simply modify the ways and means of that participation by America in its “pivot” to Asia…and probably for the better.