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July 28, 2017

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Don't expect Taiwan to pick a side in South China Sea row

Taiwan is definitely in the Asia-Pacific region, but where is it strategically? Such a question has been again highlighted by the recent flare-up in territorial disputes between China and its neighbors.

Amid rising tensions in the South China Sea, some experts have rightly pointed out that Taiwan, as one of the governments claiming sovereignty over the small islands and waters in the area, has been mostly ignored.

Taipei has never failed to assert its claims over the disputed territories in the South China Sea, but very few of its neighbors have been taking its claims seriously. The world sees it mostly as a row between the ASEAN countries, plus the United States on one side, and China on the other.

It is the same in waters north of Taiwan. The dispute over the Diaoyu Islands, called the Senkaku Islands in Japan, has been mostly seen as a game between China and Japan, though Taiwan has always maintained its claims over the islands.

In the ongoing U.S.-led Pacific Rim joint-exercises, 22 countries, including Russia, are taking part. But two countries in the area are missing: China and Taiwan.

The conspicuous absence of China tells of the underlying tensions in the area. It also demonstrates the changing strategies of many of the countries involved.

During the Cold War era, China and the U.S. teamed up to block the Soviet Union's expansion into the South China Sea. Their major strategic goal was to prevent Vietnam from becoming the region's own "Cuba."

Times have changed, and so have relationships and global politics. With its rapid rise, China now seems to have picked up the role that the Soviet Union left behind.

Global politics is now of course much different from that during the Cold War, with the threat of war much less likely. But China's neighbors are wary of the giant.

Taiwan is also wary of China, but it is in a much more difficult position than its ASEAN neighbors because of the Chinese communists' sovereignty claims over the island.

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