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Taiwan - Japan Relations

“We are family with Taiwan,” Japan’s state minister of defense Yasuhide Nakayama said 28 June 2021. Its security “is clearly related to Okinawa’s protection”. Okinawa and Taiwan are “kind of like nose and eyes, really close,” he said during a Hudson Institute online forum [in an obvious play on the well-known formulation that the China-DPRK relationship is as “close as lips and teeth”]. “We are not friends of Taiwan, we are brothers”. He said it was necessary to "wake up" to Beijing's pressure on Taiwan and protect the island "as a democratic country." Nakayama said "we have to protect Taiwan as a democratic country" and noted that he had in the past referred to Taiwan as a "red line." Nakayama questioned whether the “one China” policy would stand the test of time. “Was it right?” he asked, referring to how future generations would judge the issue. “I don’t know.”

"If a major incident happened [in Taiwan], it would not be strange at all if it touches on a situation threatening survival," Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso said 05 July 2021. "If that is the case, Japan and the U.S. must defend Taiwan together." Aso, who also serves as finance minister, is one of four cabinet members who sit on Japan's National Security Council.

Japan's latest defense paper, whose cover features a warrior on horseback, said that stability in the Taiwan Straits is "more important than ever," and is threatened by "increasing military pressure" from the Chinese mainland. "Stabilizing the situation surrounding Taiwan is important for Japan's security and the stability of the international community," the July 2021 white paper said. Taipei welcomed the statement issued on 16 April 2021 by the leaders of Japan and the United States which made reference to Taiwan. Taiwan's presidential office spokesperson Xavier Chang expressed appreciation to the two countries for underscoring the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. He said peace and stability in the strait has become a focus of the whole Indo-Pacific region and the entire world. Chang said he hopes the Beijing authorities will fulfill their responsibilities as a member of the region and jointly make positive contributions to stability and well-being.

Taiwan's foreign ministry also issued a comment. It said that due to its strategic position in the "first island chain," Taiwan plays a key role in regional stability and prosperity. The ministry said that the Taiwan government will continue to work closely with Japan, the United States and other like-minded countries to safeguard democracy, universal values and a rules-based international order to ensure peace, prosperity and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. Major media outlets in Taiwan provided detailed reports of the Japan-US summit and the joint news conference and statement that followed.

Chinese observers noted that the direct mention of Taiwan was a "severe interference of China’s domestic affairs" and sent a signal that Japan and the US are attempting to contain China’s possible moves to reunify with the island of Taiwan. Vague expressions that actually alluded to the Taiwan Strait, such as the “surrounding area” and the “surrounding situation” had been featured in the US-Japan statements before, but not directly mentioning Taiwan. The direct remarks have gone beyond the normal scope of bilateral relations, and undermines peace and stability in Asia-Pacific, Chinese Embassy in the US said.

In line with the 1972 Japan-China Joint Communique, Japan-Taiwan Relations have been maintained as working relations on a non-governmental basis. After the United States, Japan is Taiwan's most important partner, and Taiwan's government continued to assiduously promote this relationship, in part as a counterweight to its more difficult and complicated relationship with the PRC. Japan sees its own national interests best served by preserving the status quo. Japan does not wish to see Taiwan declare independence, which could draw Japan into a major power war via its alliance with the United States. On the other hand, Japan does not wish to see Taiwan absorbed into the PRC, which could give China dominion over vital shipping lanes and the South China Sea.

In 1664, a Chinese fleet led by the Ming loyalist Cheng Ch'eng-kung (Zheng Chenggong, known in the West as Koxinga) retreated from the mainland and occupied Taiwan. Cheng expelled the Dutch and established Taiwan as a base in his attempt to restore the Ming Dynasty. He died shortly thereafter, and in 1683 his successors submitted to Manchu (Qing Dynasty) control. From 1680 the Qing Dynasty ruled Taiwan as a prefecture and in 1875 divided the island into two prefectures, north and south. In 1887 the island was made into a separate Chinese province. During the 18th and 19th centuries, migration from Fujian and Guangdong provinces steadily increased, and Chinese supplanted aborigines as the dominant population group.

In 1895, a weakened Imperial China ceded Taiwan to Japan in the Treaty of Shimonoseki following the first Sino-Japanese war. During its 50 years (1895-1945) of colonial rule, Japan expended considerable effort in developing Taiwan's economy. At the same time, Japanese rule led to the "Japanization" of the island including compulsory Japanese education and forcing residents of Taiwan to adopt Japanese names. Taiwan, Japan's first overseas colony, plaed a role in expanding Japan's empire from 1895 to 1945. The Japanese transformed its first overseas colony, Taiwan, into a regional gateway for further southern expansion from 1895 to 1945. Taking advantage of Taiwan's cultural and geographical proximity to China and Southeast Asia, Japanese colonial authorities in Taiwan developed new strategies to compete with Chinese and Western powers for hegemony across the East and South China seas. At the end of World War II in 1945, Taiwan reverted to Chinese rule.

China and Japan, have been frequently set against one another in its political discourses as elites wage a pitched battle over whom the Taiwanese are and where their future lies. This was evident during Japanese colonization in 1895-1945, the rule by the KMT regime after the war, and post-democratization period. For the new KMT government led by Ma Ying-jeou since 2008, anti-Japanese resistance was a cornerstone of its nationalist foundation, but a Taiwan-centered identity in opposition to China and popular affection for Japan prevented Ma from promoting an explicit pro-China, anti-Japan nationalism.

The Japanese government, particularly the Foreign Ministry, remains reluctant to deepen the official relationship for fear of exacerbating already strained relations with Beijing. To illustrate the static state of the official relationship, Japan continues to demand that the Taiwan delegation to the annual round of quasi-official policy exchanges started in 2002 be headed by an academic. The long-standing division between pro-China and pro-Taiwan politicians in Japan is fading into the past.

The one thing that motivates Chinese nationalism more than the desire for unification is bitterness towards Japan. Taipei's repeated embrace of Japanese nationalists, support for Japan's position on Sino-Japanese territorial disputes, and boasts about Taiwan-Japan military cooperation could further exacerbate cross-Strait tensions.

Despite enjoying good relations with Taiwan, Japan prefers to keep bilateral defense ties on an informal basis. Taiwan had one active-duty military liaison officer in Tokyo while Japan had one retired military officer serving in Taipei. Although Taiwan would like to increase the level of representation and mil-to-mil exchanges, prospects remain slim because of Japanese caution.

While Japan enjoys its strongest governmental relationship with the U.S., its closest people-to-people relationship is with nearby Taiwan. The number of tourist and private travelers between Taiwan and Japan has grown over the past few years to surpass 1 million in both directions. Japan is the top destination for Taiwan tourists, and Taiwan is the number two destination (after ROK) for Japanese tourists. The SARS outbreak in 2003 and anti-Japanese riots in 2005, prompted many Japanese tourists to cancel trips to China and visit Taiwan instead, enhancing Taiwan's image and boosting tourism growth. The Japanese are more knowledgeable about Taiwan than in the past because of expanded news coverage following the establishment of several Japanese media offices in Taipei.

Since passage in 1999 of the "Law Concerning Measures to Ensure the Peace and Security of Japan," there have been numerous assurances from Japanese defense and MOFA officials that SIASJ would be invoked in the event of a PRC attack on Taiwan and, most importantly, Japan would: (1) allow U.S. forces to mount operations from basis in Japan and (2) supply rear area and logistics support to U.S. forces engaged in a conflict. The need to maintain "strategic ambiguity" qualifies this commitment, however. In effect, it is a "soft" promise that may or may not be kept depending on the political situation in Japan or on who Japanese leaders and policymakers are at the time.

Relations between Taiwan and Japan improved significantly in recent years, especially since President Chen Shui-bian took office in 2000. This is due in large part to growing concerns within the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and in Japan over the PRC's increasing regional clout. The extensive Japan-related experience of several old-guard DPP leaders and the largely pro-Japan view held by many ruling party members also converged with the rise of a new generation of conservative Japanese politicians to create a more cooperative atmosphere between Taipei and Tokyo.

Under President ChenShui-bian, Taiwan attempted to move the relationship from its traditionalgrounding in historical and cultural ties toward one based upon the shared political valuesof the two countries. This new policy was most vividly reflected in a 09 September 2002 speech in which President Chen urged Japan to support his proposal to form an “Asia-Pacific Democracy Alliance” to better defend the universal values of freedom, democracy,and human rights.

Shinzo Abe's election as the new Japanese prime minister in late September 2006 was widely viewed within Taiwan academic and foreign policy circles as an opportunity for Taipei to continue building on the already strong working relationship with Japan, especially on economic and cultural issues. In a television interview on 10 September 2006, President Chen stressed that Taiwan-Japan relations were the "best in three decades" and reiterated his desire to forge a "military partnership" with Japan to preserve peace across the Taiwan strait. Ruling DPP officials on 12 October 2006 used the North Korean nuclear test announcement as another opportunity to reiterate Taipei's willingness to intensify cooperation with the US-Japan Security Alliance. In a 30 October 2006 video conference with Japanese lawmakers, scholars, and journalists, President Chen called for a Japan-Taiwan security dialogue and a U.S.-Japan-Taiwan trilateral dialogue.

Taiwan was pleased with Japan's enhanced support for Taiwan's observership at the World Health Assembly (WHA) in May 2004, opposition to lifting the EU arms embargo on China, and its moves to grant Taiwan visitors visa-free entry to attend the 2005 Aichi Expo. However, all of these initiatives were the result of a Japanese assessment of its own interests, rather than skillful diplomacy on Taiwan's part. Japan's health authorities had real concerns about having its neighbor outside of the WHO, its military is obviously concerned about PLA modernization and the visa initiative was largely the result of pressure from Aichi officials, who expect Taiwanese to be a major source of tourists for their expo.

Japan's "unofficial" relationship with Taiwan has managed to thrive in the three decades since Japan's normalization with the Mainland thanks in large measure to frequent and long-standing contact between the Japanese Diet members and their counterparts in Taiwan's Legislative Yuan. The most influential is a non-partisan parliamentary group, the Japan-Republic of China Parliamentary Council ("Nikkakon"). It has played a significant role in managing Japan-Taiwan relations since Japan's official relationship with Taiwan ended with the normalization of Japan-China relations in September 1972.

One Japanese observer described the Nikkakon as "classic anti-communist" and a "mixture of reactionary right-wingers and Taiwan patronage-driven members." The Nikkakon had a tendency to "make empty promises," including regarding Japan's normalization of diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the conclusion of a security treaty and an the pursuit of a Free Trade Agreement and joint military exercises. Such an unrealistic approach might be one reason behind the Nikkakon's gradual membership decline.

As the situation in and surrounding Japan and Taiwan has evolved over the years, three more active parliamentary groups were established. While the Nikkakon still plays a leading role in managing Japan-Taiwan relations, other groups provide more diverse voices regarding Taiwan and the bilateral relationship.

The Japanese press reported on 13 March 2008 that MOD Defense Policy Bureau Director General Nobushige Takamizawa had suggested during a meeting of the Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) Research Committee on Security Issues that the Law Concerning Measures to Ensure the Peace and Security of Japan in Situations in Areas Surrounding Japan (SIASJ law) will be invoked in the event of a contingency in the Taiwan Strait. Takamizawa later stated to the press that his remarks were taken out of context and apologized for any misunderstanding.

In the most senior and unequivocal comments to date on Japan's position in the event of this contingency, Chief Cabinet Secretary Machimura clarified during a subsequent press conference that "a situation involving Taiwan does not mean that the SIASJ law will be applied automatically at all." Senior LDP Diet member and drafter of the 1999 law Taku Yamasaki said separately that "strategic ambiguity is what is most required in such a situation." Administrative Vice Minister of Defense Masuda also held a press conference the same evening, stating emphatically that the Japanese government's position on the issue remains unchanged -- that the concept of a contingency in areas around Japan is not geographic, but situational.

According to the 2020 trade statistics released by Japan's Ministry of Finance, the Republic of China (Taiwan) has risen from 6th place to 4th place in 2019 among the country's major import partners. 4th place is the highest ever. The Ministry of Economy (equivalent to Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) said that Taiwan succeeded in containing the new coronavirus, and that both corporate production and exports were stable, and the whole world was suffering from coronavirus. He points out that Taiwan has become a stable and reliable supplier for Japan as other countries have been hit by the storm and have significantly reduced exports.

According to statistics from the Ministry of Finance of Japan, the value of imports from Taiwan in 2020 was 2.9 trillion Japanese yen, down 2.4% from the previous year, but the rate of decrease was the smallest among the top 10 countries in terms of import value. In addition, the ratio of imports from Taiwan to the total imports of Japan increased from 3.7% in 2019 to 4.2%. According to the statistics of the Ministry of Finance of the Republic of China (Taiwan) (equivalent to the Ministry of Finance of Japan), the value of exports to Japan in 2020 of the Republic of China (Taiwan) was US $ 23.4 billion, an increase of 0.5% from the previous year. The value of imports from Japan was US $ 45.9 billion, an increase of 4.2% from the previous year. The combined trade value of exports and imports reached a record high of US $ 69.3 billion, demonstrating that Taiwan and Japan have a very close trade relationship.

Looking back on the ranking of Japan's import partners over the past 10 years, the Republic of China (Taiwan) jumped to 12th in 2011, 7th in 2018, 6th in 2019, and 4th in 2020. It will be. Regarding this, the Ministry of Economic Affairs said that the products produced by the efforts of Taiwanese industry and exporters are becoming more and more suitable for the needs of the Japanese side, and that the new coronavirus is spreading all over the world. He commented that it shows that the Republic of China (Taiwan) has become a stable and reliable supplier for Japan.

When the Senkaku Islands were placed under the administration of the US in accordance with Article 3 of the San Francisco Peace Treaty (1951), the Taiwanese authorities did not raise any objection to this. Neither did the Taiwanese side raise the issue of the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands during the process of negotiating the Treaty of Taipei in 1952. Neither did the Taiwanese side raise the issue of the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands during the process of negotiating the Treaty of Taipei in 1952. Moreover, none of the points raised by the Taiwanese authorities as historical, geographical or geological evidence provide valid grounds to support Taiwan's assertion of sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands. Japan does not accept Taiwan's own assertion.

Fishing disputes in the overlapping Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) claim between Taiwan and Japan are the only real point of contention in Taiwan-Japan relations. Taiwan's proximity to the Ryukyu (Okinawa) islands means that fishermen operating out of Ilan County in northeast Taiwan find themselves in the Japanese-claimed EEZ just a few kilometers off the Taiwan coast. On April 10, 2013, the Republic of China (on Taiwan) (ROC) and Japan concluded a landmark agreement on protection of each jurisdiction’s fishing rights in their overlapping territories near the five islets and three barren rocks in the East China Sea known in Japan as the Senkaku Islands, on mainland China as the Diaoyu (“fishing”) Islands, and in Taiwan as the Tiaoyutai (“fishing platform”) Islands. The five-point agreement had originally been proposed on August 5, 2012, by President Ma Ying-jeou of the ROC. The initiative “urges all parties to refrain from antagonistic actions; not abandon dialogue; observe international law; resolve disputes through peaceful means; and form a mechanism for exploring and developing resources on a cooperative basis.”

Although Taipei and Tokyo's competing claims over the Diaoyutai (Senkaku) islands -- also claimed by Beijing -- is another area of contention, the Chen administration minimized friction by emphasizing the need to resolve the issue calmly and peacefully. Those in Taiwan most interested in Diaoyutai activism are Deep Blue local politicians, who like to raise the issue to attract media attention especially during election campaigns. No administration in Taipei, even one as pro-Japan as the DPP, could afford to give up Taiwan's claim to the Diaoyutai.

In early February 2020, Taiwan's Agriculture and Food Agency (AFA) announced that it concluded organic equivalency negotiations with Japan and Australia. AFA published two updates to its website notifying that an agreement for organic equivalency had been reached with Australia on January 20, 2020, and with Japan on February 1, 2020. The full text of the Japan-Taiwan agreement was also made available.

Amid an effort to express solidarity with Taiwan against China, "Taiwanese pineapple fever" gripped Japan, with supermarket shelves being emptied of the Taiwan-grown tropical fruit. On 26 February 2021, Beijing announced it would ban all imports of Taiwanese pineapples, alleging that “harmful organisms” had been found in the fruit. Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture (COA) Minister Chen Chi-chung chastised China for its “unilateral decision,” which he deemed “unacceptable.”

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Page last modified: 06-10-2021 12:15:14 ZULU