Mon, Aug 08, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Japan recognizes Taiwan's worth

By Tsai Zheng-jia 蔡增家

On Friday, the Japanese Diet passed legislation to give Taiwan passport-holders visa-free entry into Japan. This move is of the utmost significance to Taiwan-Japan relations, both in practical and in substantial terms.

In practical terms, Taiwan's economic strength has gained a high level of recognition. Japan is very protective of its local industries, so whether or not to offer visa-free entry to people from another country is usually decided on the basis of the wealth of that country.

This is done to avoid problems with illegal workers. In Asia, Japan has given visa-free entry to South Korea, Singapore, Brunei, Hong Kong and Macau, all of which have high per capita incomes. Taiwan is the sixth country to earn this privilege, and we can see from this that Taiwan's economic achievements are now being recognized.

Taiwan and Japan do not have direct diplomatic relations, but officials make regular visits. The biggest source of tourism to Taiwan is from Japan, with a total of 880,000 tourists visiting from Japan last year. According to Japanese government figures, of tourists visiting Japan, Taiwan is second only to South Korea, with a total of 1,080,000 visitors. The approval of visa-free entry for Taiwanese passport holders is a mark of the high level of exchange that takes place between the two countries.

At a time when Japan's economy remains in the doldrums, the large and still growing number of Taiwanese tourists has been very attractive to the Japanese government. Allowing temporary visa-free entry to Taiwanese during the Aichi Expo and then continuing this into a permanent arrangement is an indication of the close economic relationship between the two countries.

In substantial terms, the passage of this legislation takes Taiwan-Japan relations into a new era, and it is also a turning point in the triangular relationship between Taiwan, China and Japan.

Firstly, this is a break from Japan's balancing act on the cross-strait issue. Even after 1972, when Japan broke off diplomatic relations with Taiwan in favor of China, it maintained close economic ties with Taiwan. Taking into consideration both political and economic issues, Japan pursued a policy of finding a balance across the Strait, while trying to avoid antagonizing China.

At the beginning of this year, when Japan announced that it would give Taiwanese visitors visa-free entry for six months over the period of the Aichi Expo, it also announced visa-free entry for Chinese university students visiting Japan on graduation trips. But on this occasion, when announcing a permanent lifting of visa restrictions on Taiwanese passport holders, it made no conciliatory offer to China, a clear break from its past careful balancing act.

In addition, it also indicates that the Japanese Diet has broken from purely practical considerations with regard to the cross-strait issue.

Given the practical considerations of international politics, pro-China members of the Diet far outnumber those who favor Taiwan, so that any measures that favor Taiwan are not generally passed. But in this instance, the formalization of visa-free entry for Taiwanese has won support from ruling coalition parties as well as the largest opposition party. This clearly indicates that members of the Diet have broken away from the ideological constraints in the cross-strait issue, and are gradually not just looking at practical benefits, but are taking a more grounded attitude towards considering its relationship with Taiwan.

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