Asian governments cool to Kosovo's independence

Published on February 25, 2008, The Vancouver Sun

Category: Growing International Opposition to Imposed Solution

Jonathan Manthorpe

In the jubilant party atmosphere following Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia last week messages of support from various capitals of the world were chalked up on a website as soon as they arrived.

Along with the big beasts of international diplomacy supporting Kosovo's independence -- The United States, Britain, France and Germany -- a pleasant message arrived from the government of Taiwan in Taipei.

This was entirely predictable. Taiwan is, after all, an independent state that is excluded from formal membership of all international organizations because of blackmail of the global community by China, which claims to own the island of 23 million people.

So any examples of self-determination for a distinct community leading to formal recognition by major nations is always something Taiwan will be quick to applaud.

And very swiftly Taiwan's name was added to the growing list of supportive countries on the unofficial but government-linked website.

The Kosovar webmaster even put beside Taiwan's name the comment "xie xie," meaning thank you.

It was tracking this little courtesy that first gave a clue that something was going on in the background.

A few hours after the first posting the Romanized spelling of the Chinese for thank you was changed to "sie sie" and then to "hsieh hsieh." The latter is the now archaic Wade-Giles system of Romanization of Chinese characters while the former is the more modern Tongyong system favoured by the Taiwanese government.

And then the name of Taiwan disappeared from the Kosovar web list entirely, but a note was put up saying the site had been bombarded by e-mails from China and Taiwan saying that as Taiwan is not an internationally recognized country it should not have been on the list. As a result of this traffic, the webmaster decided to drop Taiwan from the list.

Taiwan's case for international recognition of its independence is far more well founded than that of Kosovo, a land-locked enclave of two million ethnic Albanians that was allowed to fall into a decade of brutal hostility with the Serbian majority through the lack of attention of the administration of then U.S. president Bill Clinton and various European governments.

Indeed, none of the explanations given by the current U.S. administration as well as the governments of Britain, France and Germany make much sense. One is forced to the conclusion the main reason is to irritate Russia, Serbia's principal supporter.

But plenty of other governments, especially in Asia, are not at all happy by the Big Beasts' engineering and prompt recognition of Kosovo's independence.

China, first and foremost, expressed "deep concern" at the recognition, raising the probability that Beijing, along with Moscow, will use its United Nations Security Council veto to deny Kosovo recognized statehood when the opportunity occurs.

It's not only the implications for its claim to Taiwan that worries Beijing. China contains 56 recognized minority ethnic groups, several of whom such as the Tibetans, the Uighers of Xinjiang province and even, more quietly, the Cantonese of Guangdong and Hong Kong nurse separatist desires.

Disquiet at the Kosovo precedent is also evident in India, which not only has the problem of the disputed territory of Kashmir, but which is confronting drawn-out separatist campaigns on its eastern borders with Burma.

And the Sri Lankan government, of course, sees the Kosovo move as decidedly unhelpful in its long and bloody battle to try to defeat Tamil separatism in the island's north.

American ally Indonesia is not amused, either. This nation of 16,000 islands and some 200 ethnic groups has currently quiet but easily excited separatist movements in Aceh, Irian Jaya and the Maluku islands.

Another Washington ally, the Philippines, has been fighting for 30 years separatist moves by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in and around the southern island of Mindanao.

Even Japan, among the most homogeneous of Asian countries, has not leapt to support Kosovar independence. Tokyo says it is going to look carefully at whether Kosovo meets the conditions for statehood, which is probably shorthand for not wishing to be at odds with its Asian neighbours.

Only Australia in Asia has enthusiastically welcomed Kosovo's independence. This may reflect a desire by the new Labour Party government of Kevin Rudd to establish that left-wingers can be Washington's friends too.

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