Tue, Jan 18, 2000 - Page 8 News List

Railway could link Taiwan and Japan

By Takefumi Hayata

Japan's Shinkansen has beaten the Eurotrain and won the right to engage in price negotiations for Taiwan's NT$90 billion plus high speed railway project. This is the first time that the Shin-kansen has ever beaten the Eurotrain system in an overseas bid.

The construction of Taiwan's high speed railway will not only bring profits to Japanese enterprises but will also enhance the economic trade relations between Japan and Taiwan.

However, there is something more important than economic trade relations at issue here.

Once Japan's most popular Shinkansen "bullet trains" are running around Taiwan, I believe they will enhance the Japanese affinity toward Taiwan and improve relations between the two countries on various levels.

After its criticisms of Taiwan's so-called "earthquake diplomacy (地震外交)," China's criticism of Taiwan's "high-speed railway diplomacy (高鐵外交)" is not completely groundless.

However, it does not really matter if Japan's winning of the bid has any connection with a future visit to Japan by President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) or if any other political factors are involved.

The most important thing is to strengthen the relations and interaction between Japan and Taiwan.

If the two parties maintain good relations and the goodwill is extended to political relations, then any problems regarding Lee's visit will certainly be resolved.

On the other hand, the relationship between the Japanese and the Taiwanese has always been a true love-hate relationship.

Older Taiwanese are very pro-Japan, but the mainlanders are extremely anti-Japan and anti-Japanese, as shown by the Tiaoyutai Incident (釣魚台事件).

In contrast to young people's fervor for Japan's pop culture, Taiwan's current education focuses on Japan's responsibility for World War II.

Despite the close economic trade relations between Japan and Taiwan, the Japanese in Taiwan tend to maintain a low profile.

They apparently feel they have to be cautious and not provoke anti-Japanese sentiment.

The introduction of the Shinkansen system into Taiwan could symbolize the start of Japan taking a more active role to promote its business activities more publicly in Taiwan.

However, this does not necessarily mean an increase in Taiwan's trade deficit with Japan.

I would rather say it offers a chance for the two sides to work hand in hand.

In addition, the interaction between the two countries on the private level has always been one way.

Taiwan's "Japan junkies" are familiar with Japan, while Japan's young people have a poor understanding of Taiwan.

The construction of the Shinkansen will dramatically increase the Japanese's understanding of Taiwan.

I believe this will be of great help in protecting Taiwan's security and interests.

However, things may not be as optimistic as this.

Unlike the Chinese High Speed Railway (中華高鐵), the Taiwan High-Speed Rail Corporation (台灣高鐵) is composed more of "mainlanders" than Taiwanese.

In our experience, when Japanese enterprises work with Taiwanese enterprises, whether their business partners are Taiwanese or mainlanders has had a significant impact on the levels of cooperation between the two sides.

So it remains to be seen whether the two countries will be able to head toward a new relationship via the construction of the Taiwan High-Speed Railway.

Takefumi Hayata is the publisher of Taiwan Report Weekly

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