Veteran Canadian journalist Jonathan Manthorpe has an in-depth look at what a Ma presidency means to Tokyo and Washington in the Vancouver Sun:

An unforeseen effect of the coming to power in Taiwan in May of president Ma Ying-jeou and the Kuomintang (KMT) party is an apparent loosening of relations with Japan and the United States, traditionally the two guarantors of the island’s independence.

Ma’s victory in the March presidential election following the KMT’s gaining of control of the parliament, the Legislative Yuan, in January elections has been broadly welcomed, especially in Washington.

The campaign pledge by Ma to improve relations with China, which claims to own the island, was seen as welcome relief after nearly a decade of tension during the presidency of the arch Taiwanese nationalist Chen Shui-bian.

An “unforeseen” effect of a Ma presidency was moving closer to China and distancing itself from Tokyo and Beijing? Lots of people spotted that one! Including this blogger, on many occasions.

Manthorpe’s article is a good review with plenty of background — often lacking in the international media. The meat of the piece says:

But although Ma pledged not to seek political unification between Taiwan and China, there are indications the pro-China stance of his administration is going further than his campaign promises indicated.

Most startling was a comment earlier this month by KMT vice-chairman Kuan Chung during a visit to China that Taiwan’s unification with China remains the party’s goal.

The flip side of this cozying up to Beijing is the new Taipei government distancing itself from its traditional allies, especially Japan.

This came to the fore last month when a Taiwanese fishing boat sank after an accidental collision with a Japanese coast guard cutter off the Japanese-held Senkakou Islands, which the Taiwanese call the Tiaoyutai.

Taiwan claims to own the islands, but successive governments in Tokyo and Taipei have not allowed the dispute to get out of hand or taint economic and political relations.

Ma, however, took the belligerent course of dispatching nine Taiwanese naval vessels to the waters around the Tiaoyutai.

The last section talks about the arms freeze:

A dramatic contrast to Washington’s initial welcoming of Ma’s election is the Bush administration’s decision to freeze arms sales to Taiwan.

This decision is especially odd because for eight years the Bush administration has been urging Taipei to take more responsibility for its own defence and to buy $16 billion-worth of American arms, including anti-missile systems, warplanes and submarines.

Former president Chen’s administration wanted to take up the offer, but was constantly blocked from doing so by the KMT control of parliament.

Now in power, Ma wants the package, but the Bush administration is saying no.

This may in part be a gesture of thanks to Beijing for its help in pressing North Korea over its nuclear weapons program.

But there are also influential elements in Washington’s military establishment that mistrust China’s military modernization and who fear selling arms to Taiwan these days is tantamount to giving Beijing American military secrets.

It is often said that China would have US military secrets if they got their hands on US equipment from Taiwan, but I have also heard experts say the threat is overblown. It reads to me like more rationalization for the Bush Administration’s positions.

No, I expect that Washington will send out some feelers that it is displeased, and Ma will make a move to placate Washington. Temporary happiness will bloom inside the Beltway, and meanwhile the KMT will continue to move the island towards China.