China’s tense relationships with its neighbors have recently grown even worse. Ties with Japan, already frosty over an island dispute, soured further after Beijing announced a new air defense zone in the East China Sea that overlaps with Japan’s. The expanded China zone also covers territory claimed by South Korea, but Korean air force planes are ignoring it. In the South China Sea, site of another island quarrel with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia, the Chinese were late and stingy in sending relief to the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan: First they offered $100,000 in aid, then a still-puny $1.6 million. Out west, the Chinese foreign ministry cautioned India not to complicate the Sino-Indian relationship after President Pranab Mukherjee visited a Himalayan region that China considers part of Tibet.
But when it comes to China’s ties with Taiwan, traditionally its most fraught relationship, Beijing’s leaders couldn’t be friendlier. Consider the schedule of Chen Deming. As head of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, Chen is the official responsible for negotiating with the island, even though he’d never been there until last month. In late November he arrived for an eight-day visit to meet with the mayor of Taipei, the governor of the central bank, and the honorary chairman of the ruling Kuomintang, or Chinese Nationalist party.
Taiwanese officials marked the occasion by making it easier to do business with China. Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou raised the daily quota of visitors from the mainland by 50 percent, to 3,000, while the two sides increased the number of direct flights across the Strait by almost 25 percent, to 828 per week.