SINGAPORE -- Just as the United States and China are trying to work together to solve the nuclear standoff with North Korea, another potential flash point in Asia is threatening to complicate diplomacy: Taiwan.
China reacted angrily yesterday to a statement issued by the United States and Japan in which they defined Taiwan as one of their common security concerns.
Washington and Tokyo had never before stated joint concern, and China lashed out in reply, calling the remarks "irresponsible" and "untenable."
The United States and Japan released the joint statement Saturday after a regular meeting of their security alliance in Washington. They said it was a "common strategic objective" to encourage "the peaceful resolution of issues concerning the Taiwan Strait."
Nothing more specific was spelled out, but China read the phrasing as a threat by Japan to help the United States defend Taiwan if China attacks.
China considers Taiwan a renegade province and has never ruled out invading, if Taiwan drops its facade of being a quasi-state and declares independence.
Japan and the United States recognize that a rising China -- an emerging economic powerhouse with a big military and global ambitions -- complicates the geopolitical landscape in Asia. And while Washington and Tokyo hope that China contributes to stability, including reining in its longtime ally, North Korea, Taiwan looms as a potentially dangerous issue.
Japan is becoming a more assertive security partner to the United States, particularly after feeling threatened by North Korea, but it also is wary of China. This helps explain why Japan was willing to speak out on Taiwan.
But Japan and the United States may have been sending a more direct warning to China over how to handle Taiwan. Next month, China's rubber-stamp parliament is expected to pass an "anti-secession" law that could legally bind China to attack Taiwan if it declares independence. The wording of the law has not been released, and the United States and Japan could be pressuring Beijing to water it down.
China showed no sign yesterday of backing off. Reacting to what on the surface appeared to be bland diplomatic language on Taiwan, Beijing nevertheless took it as a direct challenge to its sovereignty.
"The Chinese government and Chinese people firmly oppose the U.S.-Japan statement on the Taiwan issue, which concerns China's sovereignty, territorial integrity and national security," said Kong Quan, a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Beijing.
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