Moments That Made The Year : China lurks behind the Asian tigers

Peking is the key to tensions throughout the continent, writes Richard Lloyd Parry

Asia has seemed almost quiet over the last 12 months: 1995 was a spectacular year which saw terrorist attacks and earthquakes in Japan, nuclear tests in China and the South Pacific and, throughout the region, wrenching commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the end of the Pacific war. The crises of 1996 were of a different order: few big splashes, but many inconclusive ripples.

In March, the US 7th Fleet steamed into action after China began a series of war games in the run-up to the first ever democratic elections in Taiwan. But the polls went ahead, the winner Lee Teng Hui prudently chose not to declare independence from Peking, and the battleships steamed peacefully home again.

There were no big wars or natural disasters or dramatic falls from power in East Asia in 1996, and the year ended with displays of high-profile unity at economic summits in Manila and Singapore.

But to take this relative calm for stability, or to assume that the changes that have transformed European security have had an equivalent effect in Asia, would be premature.

Five years after the evaporation of the Soviet threat, Asian governments are in a state of uneasy readjustment. But classic communism is in decline in Asia, like everywhere else. In June the Communist Party of Vietnam held its party congress beneath giant images of Marx and Lenin - but behind the rhetoric the Central Committee's report read in parts like the work of Western management consultants. Even North Korea, the world's last Stalinist bastion, welcomed Westerners in September to its first Free Trade Zone.

But ideological differences are still alive in Asia, as this year demonstrated. For years, students of economics and international affairs have debated the existence of "Asian values" - hard work, strong, supportive families and a willingness to sacrifice the interests of the individual for the good of the group.

Authoritarian states such as Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia have long attracted the concern of Western human rights organisations; the focus for this was Burma, and its democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who maintained herdignity in the face of continued harassment by the ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council (Slorc). In July, governments in Europe and America reacted with anger when Burma was welcomed as a probationary member of the Association of South East Asian Nations [Asean].

On the face of it, the Asean decision was understandable - by embracing rather than judging the Slorc, Burma's Asean brethren will have their best chance of setting the nation towards wealth and democracy.

But the appeal to Asian values is looking more and more like an excuse for despots to hold on to their power. Fellow feeling among South-east Asians did little for the Indonesians arrested in the aftermath of the July riots for their peaceful opposition to the government - nor for the inhabitants of East Timor, the former Portuguese territory annexed 20 years ago.

The correspondences between Burma and Indonesia were emphasised in October with the award of the Nobel Peace Prize, previously won by Ms Suu Kyi, to Bishop Carlos Belo and Jose Ramos-Horta of East Timor.

But at the deepest level, the Burma dispute, like almost all the other tensions in the region, is about China. Peking already has the world's biggest army; in the first quarter of the next century it will have developed the world's biggest economy. Scratch away at most of the incidents, spats and stand-offs which have flickered throughout Asia in 1996 and you will find China.

To the Asean countries, China is a source of fear and opportunity. By maintaining an ambivalent distance from the values of the West, they leave open the option of eventual detente with Peking, while constructing a reassuring cordon sanitaire out of new members such as Laos, Cambodia - and Burma. Increasingly, future Chinese assertiveness was foreshadowed in the form of territorial disputes - from the seemingly trivial squabble over the lonely Senkaku/Diaoyutai chain, claimed by Japan, to sabre-rattling over Taiwan.

In a sense, these disputes will remain unsolved until after the handover of Hong Kong at the end of June. Only then will China's neighbours have a sense of what to expect - or fear.

Tokyo Correspondent

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

News
A Brazilian wandering spider
news

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

News
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech

Company decides to go for simply scary after criticising other sites for 'creepy and targeted' advertising

Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
News
news

Footage shot by a passerby shows moment an ill man was carried out of his burning home

Voices
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
voices
News
i100
News
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Programmatic Business Development Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: As the Programmatic Business Dev...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Ma...

Geography Teacher

£110 - £130 per day + TBA: Randstad Education Reading: Geography Teacher neede...

***Sports Graduate***

£50 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Preston: This role has arisen due to inc...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past