Is there something in the water?
Suddenly peace, or at least peace talks, are breaking out in the most unlikely places. In Asia, entrenched enemies – China and Taiwan, North and South Korea – have agreed to sit down at the table.
In an effort to decode the surprising developments, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour spoke on Tuesday with Kurt Campbell, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, who is widely credited with being the key architect of America’s “Pivot to Asia.”
China and Taiwan are holding their first-ever official face-to-face talks since Mao Zedong’s communists won their civil war in 1949 – a “quite significant” turn of events, Campbell said.
“Over the course of the last 30 years, people thought that the most tense situation in Asia was between China and Taiwan, but in recent years the relationship has improved substantially – commercially, economically, and now politically.”
What both sides are getting out of the talks, he told Amanpour, is “a greater sense of predictability.”
China does not recognize the independence of Taiwan, and Taiwan is not a U.N. member state, but the island is self governing and generally conducts itself in terms of bilateral relations as an independent country.
Over the years, Taiwan and China have built a thriving commercial relationship, with hundreds of billions of dollars in trade.
Some sectors, he told Amanpour, think of Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou as “pro-Beijing,” but that view is “probably simplistic.”
“I think he is actually a Taiwan nationalist. I do believe he thinks that closer economic and commercial ties are just the wave of the future, and that Taiwan has few other options, and that to stand against the giant just across the Taiwan straits in a sort of militaristic pose makes no sense.”
Another surprise set of Asian talks, between North and South Korea, has grabbed attention in diplomatic circles.
North Korea offered talks with South Korea, and “high-level” officials are set to meet on the two countries’ border on Wednesday.
“I do not believe that it holds the same hope that we’ve seen between China and Taiwan. If anything, North and South Korea are more estranged than ever,” Campbell said.
The talks come ahead of planned reunions between Korean families estranged by the Korean war more than half a century ago.
“These family reunifications and meetings have taken place over a period of decades, and they almost always get abruptly cancelled at the last minute or abbreviated,” Campbell said.
Indeed, Pyongyang said last week it may back out of the reunions of the families if South Korean forces participate in annual joint military exercises with the United States later this month – Campbell said such exercises “will not” be cancelled.
“It’s really North Korea playing on the heartstrings of the South Koreans.”
“South Korea has had almost no contact with this new government, and now suddenly North Korea dangles what really matters a lot to South Korea, which is the family reunifications.”
The talks, Campbell said, will not lead to a significant “warming.”
“On every issue – whether it’s the territorial issue, the islands, the manufacturing that’s on-going inside North Korea – tensions abound.”