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Monday 19 Feb 2018 | 19:03 | SYDNEY
Monday 19 Feb 2018 | 19:03 | SYDNEY

East Asia's party diplomacy



12 June 2008 15:53

A while ago Edwin Lowe from Macquarie University criticized a post I wrote on Taiwan-PRC rapprochement. He argued that I fell into the trap of many Western analysts (even Asia-literate Australians) of assuming diplomacy is only between governments and not political parties. After some thought, I think Edwin’s point is right, and here are a few examples to illustrate why:

  1. The ongoing dialogue between the ruling KMT in Taiwan and the CCP in China that started when the KMT was in opposition (Edwin’s example). Of course, today KMT Vice-Chairman Chiang Pin-kun is in China meeting Chen Yun-lin, the former head Taiwan Work Office of the Communist Party of China Central Committee at the same guesthouse that Nixon met Zhou Enlai in 1972.
  2. A Korean friend of mine with the Grand National Party noted how RoK-Japan relations are stronger under the Lee Myung-bak Government as his party as the GNP has better and long-standing relations with Japan’s ruling LDP than did former President Roh Moo-hyun and his Uri party. 
  3. Two years ago a senior Japanese political visitor to the Institute noted how China-Japan relations suffered when Koizumi came to power partly because the factions that supported Koizumi did not have such strong ties to China as his opponents in the party. Under Fukuda, these party (faction) ties have been re-established. 

At first thought, party-to-party relations have the benefit of not getting as much media focus and undoubtedly helping smooth over government-to-government problems that regularly flare up between East Asian neighbours. I have been told that LDP shadow shogun Takeshita Noboru played an important role in organising the joint holding of the 2002 World Cup, partially because of his role as the chair of the Korea-Japan Parliamentary Union. However, as shown in all three cases, party-to-party diplomacy is a weakness when there is a change of government or, in the case of the LDP in Japan, a change of leading faction(s). Would RoK-Japan relations have been smoother over the last eight years if GNP-LDP ties were not so important? The importance of party-to-party diplomacy may also reflect East Asia’s history of long rule by a single party (in the case of Japan, achieved democratically). However, for Taiwan, South Korea and even Japan, these days may be over. For China, well that’s another, bigger discussion.

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