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The New Schizophrenia: Asia Between Integration and Isolation

Author: Joshua Kurlantzick, Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia
January 2010
Current History


In the fall of 2008, Chen Yunlin, China's chief negotiator with Taiwan, made a landmark visit to the island, which Beijing considers a renegade province. While there, Chen signed several critical agreements to open transportation between the island and the mainland, thus tightening business and cultural ties that already are uniting cities like Taipei and Shanghai (home to more than 100,000 expatriate Taiwanese). In many parts of Taiwan, Chen received a rapturous welcome. The island's most powerful figures greeted him; he met face-to-face with President Ma Ying-jeou.

But Chen's welcome was not entirely warm. When he arrived at a hotel for dinner, angry protesters ringed the building. Many of them were from the Democratic Progressive Party, which historically has pushed for Taiwanese independence. The demonstrators stayed for six hours, provoking a standoff with police and essentially trapping Chen inside all evening. When cars left the hotel, protesters spat on them as they sped away.

The juxtaposition of these events illustrates a transformation now occurring across much of Asia. The region is experiencing a new schizophrenia, a range of strategic changes that often seem contradictory- and could potentially prove disastrous.

On one hand, many cultural, economic, and political trends suggest that Asian nations are becoming more integrated and even developing a regional consciousness. In particular, Asian opinion leaders-cultural elites, business executives, top foreign policy thinkers, and some senior diplomats-have embraced the process of regional integration.

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