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Rapprochement across the Taiwan Strait

China and Taiwan seek to increase economic exchanges by allowing individuals to travel from Mainland China to Taiwan. Pakistani and Indian foreign secretaries are set to meet in Islamabad. Sudan and South Sudan reach Abeyi deal, and Syria’s Assad makes new promises to reform. All this in today’s security briefing.

The Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), a Taiwanese semi-official organization handling technical or business matters with China has confirmed that both governments have agreed to inaugurate a Free Independent Travelers (FIT) program between the two sides. Initially, the program allowing for individual tourism in Taiwan will be limited to residents of Beijing, Shanghai, and Xiamen. The number of direct commercial flights is set to rise to 558 from 370 while new airports such as Tancheng, Wenzhou in China and Tainan in Taiwan will be added to the list of authorized airports.

Chinese tourists have been officially allowed to travel to Taiwan since July 2008; however they have to travel in groups, which give little room for the choice of destination, hotels and restaurants. Recent developments have taken place against the background of established informal relations through the Three Links, increasing cross strait investments and cultural and educational exchanges. The ease of restrictions on travel is bound to be positive for both the Taiwanese economy and cross-strait relations. However, it is important to note that this development is only one important step in the greater peacebuilding process. Chinese tourists are set to contribute $19 billion to the Taiwanese economy, with sectors such as aviation and tourism benefitting the most. In return, Chinese airlines such as China Southern and Air China also stand to gain from increased travel. China in general will seek to continue its policy of keeping the status quo and improving economic incentives in order to boost its image in Taiwan.

Policymakers in Taipei seem to have realized that a policy which creates political space for deeper and stronger ties between the two sides will not affect Taiwan’s sovereignty. At the same time, as China continues growing into one of the most powerful countries in the world interactions with Beijing are increasingly inevitable. Nevertheless, Taiwan treats China as both an opportunity and a threat. Ma Ying Jeou, the Taiwanese president, himself states that peaceful policies must not be pursued at the cost of Taiwan’s security.

Open security verdict: These recent developments are a welcoming sign for peaceful relations across the strait and the region. In essence, both Taiwan and China are moving towards a systemized relationship through trade, investment, cultural and educational exchanges. This means that any unilateral attempt by a party to alter this status quo would come at significant costs, both political and economic. In the run-up to the 2012 Taiwanese presidential elections, such issues are bound to be key aspects for the electorate. If Ma can maintain his presidency, he will certainly move on to pursue the more sensitive issues of security and military affairs with China. If the linkages across the strait improve, it is likely that Beijing would be willing to negotiate a reduction in the number of missiles pointing towards Taiwan.

However, it should not be forgotten that a security dilemma continues to exist between the major stakeholders in the cross-strait relationship, namely the Chinese, the Taiwanese and the Americans. In recent years, the balance of power has tilted in China’s favor due to the superiority of the Chinese armed forces to that of Taiwan, both in terms of quantity and quality. Moreover, as China continues to become an important partner for nations across the world, it is unlikely that any outsider would risk to disrupt their relations with China over Taiwan. Taiwan is thus left to deal with China’s growing significance by combining hard power (primarily through America) and soft power (through growing linkages) to safeguard the island’s security. From China’s perspective, America’s diminishing hold on cross-strait relations is a welcome development. This is not to say that the United States has lost significance in the region, but rather to point out the US preoccupation with the global 'War on Terror'. This leaves China with great room to maneuver, allowing it to pursue its ambitions, but also to win over the Taiwanese through economic incentives – much like Beijing has won over its own people.

Pakistan-India talks are set to be held on June 23 and 24 in Islamabad

The foreign secretaries of the two South Asian neighbors will hold talks later this month in the Pakistani capital. The two countries plan to discuss how to deal with terrorism in a transparent fashion, seeking to improve the security situation of both Pakistan and India. These talks are seen as an essential first step in a larger struggle for greater stability in the region, especially as they reduce the prevailing trust deficit between the two countries. Pakistan and India need to work on confidence building measures (CBMS) to benefit from one another. If the two nuclear armed nations can lay the foundations for understanding during this meeting, the greater issues of security in Kashmir and Afghanistan could be tackled in subsequent negotiations. Until these issues are openly discussed, it seems unlikely that the issue of terrorism in the region could be resolved.

Sudan and South Sudan reach Abyei deal

An agreement was reached in Addis Ababa over Sudan’s oil-rich Abyei region, following long discussions led by the former South African president Thabo Mbeki. The accord calls for the demilitarization of Abyei, along with the deployment of Ethiopian peacekeepers. In principle the parties also agreed to establish a council which would oversee the security situation in the region. This council includes two members from both North and South Sudan, along with a representative from the African Union. However, fighting continues in the Nuba Mountains just north of the border, home to rebel fighters allied with the south. One potential threat to the accord is the inability of the two sides to reach a consensus with regards to a formula to share revenues from Sudan’s oil, most of which is produced in the south.

Syria’s Assad makes new promises to reform

Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian President, offered indistinct promises of reform on Monday and at the same time warned protestors that they would be held ‘accountable’ for their actions. The Syrian leader also stated that he would work on getting the military back into the barracks and hinted that the constitution may be amended. Assad stated that his government would not deal with the opposition but instead establish a dialogue including all ‘fabrics of Syrian society’. Even though Assad put the blame on armed gangs and conspiracies for the deteriorating situation in Syria, internationally his remarks were largely dismissed. Turkish President Abdullah Gul stated that Assad was not clear enough, whereas European ministers decided to increase sanctions on the country.

For now it seems that the situation in Syria will remain tense as protestors continue to defy the Syrian government and security forces. Participants not only include those demonstrating against the current regime, but also supporters of Assad, who turned out in numbers during a rally in Daraa, Aleppo and Homs. It is also unlikely that the UN will pass a resolution against Syria any time soon as Russia maintains its stance to veto any such motion.

About the author

Humayun Saleem graduated with an MSc in Global Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. His work focuses on South Asia, East Asia and South East Asia.


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