Meeting between China and Taiwan occurs amid backdrop of rising tension in Asia Pacific region

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The highest-rated article on the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada website carries the provocative title: "Worrying about the war in the Pacific".

Yves Tiberghien, a foundation senior fellow and executive director of the China Council at UBC, examined some of the factors leading to rising tensions in East Asia, including:

• The "Maoist overtones" surrounding power struggles in China "along with a growing military voice". Recently, this manifested itself in the declaration of a Chinese Air Defence Identification Zone, which alienated the United States and China's neighbours.

• Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe's provocative decision to visit the Yasukuni Shrine "where 14 Class-A war criminals of the Chinese and Pacific wars have been enshrined since 1978". 

"Would we tolerate a German chancellor visiting shrines to Hitler, Goebbels and Goering?" Tiberghien wrote.

Other storm clouds include the possibility of Hindu strongman and Gujurat chief minister Narendra Modi emerging as prime minister of India in 2014. That would likely elevate tensions with Pakistan and possibly Bangladesh.

In addition, there's always a chance of a stronger backlash from the Philippines to China's aggressive moves in the South China Sea.

This body of water reportedly includes 10 percent of the world's annual fisheries catch.

Philippines president Benigno Aquino has compared Beijing's claims in this area to actions by Nazi Germany in 1938.

"At what point do you say, ‘Enough is enough'? Well, the world has to say it—remember that the Sudetenland was given in an attempt to appease Hitler to prevent World War II," Aquino told the New York Times. 

The Philippines has filed a challenge against China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, but China refuses to participate.

In light of all this turmoil, it's welcome news that Taiwan (also known as the Republic of China) and the People's Republic of China (also known as mainland China) held their first meeting on February 11 after a 65-year diplomatic freeze.

It's a sign that at least two parties in the region appear prepared to tone down the rhetoric.

The Mainland Affairs Minister of Taiwan, Wang Yu-chi, held talks in Nanjing with Zhang Zhijun of China's Taiwan Affairs Office.

It reflects Taiwan president Ma Ying-Jeou's efforts to promote better relations with China. This sets him apart from the policy of his predecessor, Chen Shui-ban, who pursued a more hardline approach.

In a news release issued by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Vancouver, director general William Chuang declared that his government's "pragmatic and constructive dialogue with mainland China has greatly reduced the tension between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait".

“The successful meetings between Taiwan and Mainland China will not only help to boost the stability and security of East Asia, but also will in turn be beneficial to Canada and the international community as well,” Chuang said. 

Meanwhile, Taiwan is trying to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. In fact, President Ma cited this as a goal in his 2012 inauguration address.

The secretive trade negotiations for the TPP have drawn the ire of legislators in seven of the 12 countries involved.

Vancouver Kingsway NDP MP Don Davies and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May are among a group that recently signed an open letter demanding participants release a draft text before signing a final agreement.

In October, the Brookings Institution published a paper pointing out that five of Taiwan's Top 10 export markets were TPP parties. So it's no wonder why this is such a high priority for Taiwan, which has an export-driven economy.

Ma has been faring poorly in the polls, so getting Taiwan into the TPP would help improve his government's standing with the electorate.

However, China has traditionally opposed Taiwan acting independently in the international area, claiming that the island nation of 23 million people is a long-lost province of the mainland.

In fact, Taiwan has been a thriving democracy ever since martial law was lifted in the 1980s.

In a subsequent January 2014 paper published by the Brookings Institution, scholar Richard C. Bush declared that it won't be easy for Taiwan to gain access to the TPP.

"There is much that Taiwan can do—or must do—to clear the path on its own: forging a domestic consensus; enhancing the credibility of its economic commitments; and developing its own negotiating strategy," Bush concluded. "Having done these things, it will be much easier for TPP members, particularly the United States, to support Taiwan's entry on economic grounds and resist Beijing's political opposition."

However, if Taiwan throws Beijing a bone by supporting China's objectives more vociferously in the South China Sea, the quid pro quo could be significantly less Chinese opposition to Taiwan's admission to the TPP.

That would give Ma's party, the Kuomintang, a much-needed political boost at home in plenty of time for the 2016 presidential election.

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