Taiwan's Sovereignty Dilemma

To allay China's fury over his private trip to Taiwan this summer before becoming Singapore's prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong said that his country will not support Taiwan should it declare formal independence from mainland China. Indeed, no country, declared Lee, would take a different line.

This diplomatic strike occurred at roughly the same time that Taiwan was failing - for the thirteenth time - in its bid to re-enter the United Nations, having been expelled when China was admitted in 1971. While Taiwanese athletes competed in the recent Athens Olympics, advertisements supporting the team were removed on its arrival at Athens airport. Returning home from a trip to three Central American allies, Premier Yu Shyi-kun's entourage was forced to transit in Okinawa to escape the effects of Typhoon Aere, inciting a protest from China against Japan's government.

Such symbolic politics forms a key part of the mainland's relentless effort to isolate Taiwan internationally. To display its displeasure at Lee Hsien Loong's visit, China's government warned Singapore that a bilateral free-trade deal might be in jeopardy. Commenting on Taiwan's UN application, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan demanded that Taipei stop pursuing its "two China's" policy.

China's diplomatic offensive against Taiwan escalated in early August, when President Hu Jintao telephoned US President George W. Bush to demand a halt to the sale of advanced weapons to Taiwan. Hu told Bush that the Taiwan issue was "very sensitive," and that China would "absolutely not tolerate Taiwan independence."