Mon, Dec 12, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan no longer a three-way issue

By Richard Halloran

The conflict over the future of Taiwan is usually seen as a triangular struggle between China, Taiwan -- where the majority seeks to retain their separation from China -- and the US, which is Taiwan's security guarantor.

That is changing, contends a new study by the National Bureau of Asian Research, a non-partisan institute in Seattle. It argues that the Taiwan question has become quadrangular, with Japan having become the fourth nation directly engaged in potentially the most explosive clash in Asia.

Japan's entry into the Taiwan issue is yet another indication of Tokyo's active emergence in Asian international relations after decades of taking a pacifist and passive stance, or what the Japanese call "low posture."

Moreover, the study suggests that East Asia is becoming ever more divided into Chinese and US blocs. Specifically, it says, "if a military confrontation occurred between the US and China over Taiwan, US policymakers can rest assured of Japan's support."

US President George W. Bush seemed to underscore Japan's new position on Taiwan last month in a speech he made in Kyoto, Japan's ancient capital, by including warm praise for Taiwan. He applauded Taiwan for having "moved from repression to democracy as it liberalized its economy." Bush lauded the people of Taiwan for being "free, democratic and prosperous." The Chinese, who insist that the Taiwan issue is an internal question of no concern to the US, were not pleased.

The assessment of Japan-Taiwan relations was written by two retired US naval officers experienced in Asian affairs, Michael McDevitt and James Auer; two Japanese academics, Yoshihide Soeya of Keio University and Tetsuo Kotani of Doshisha University; and Philip Yang (楊永明) of National Taiwan University.

The study asserts that: "Taiwan's quiet initiative to push for a greater level of informal defense contacts with Japan arises in no small part from shared history and democratic values, common strategic constraints and island threat environments, as well as the close relations that Tokyo and Taipei maintain with the US."

The shared history relates to Japan's colonial rule of Taiwan from 1895 to 1945 after the nation was ceded by China following Japan's victory in the Sino-Japanese War. Japan's control is generally considered to have been quite benign despite several harsh episodes during the early period.

Strategically, Taiwan sits astride Japan's trade routes through Southeast Asia to the Persian Gulf, a key source of oil, and on through the Suez Canal to markets in Europe. The US is tied to Taiwan by the Taiwan Relations Act, which requires Washington to help defend Taiwan; Tokyo has a security treaty with the US.

In taking this initiative, the authors say, "Taiwan has skillfully seized diplomatic leverage from China, the US, and Japan, and has used this power to promote an agenda that often tests the bounds of Beijing's tolerance."

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), however, may have overplayed his hand. In local elections earlier this month, his Democratic Progressive Party was soundly beaten by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). Chen appears to have made voters worry that he might provoke China into military action against Taiwan.

Japanese sympathy for Taiwan has risen since the end of the Cold War, Soeya writes, because of the "deterioration of political and security relations between Japan and China, and Taiwan's steady democratization." He points to several dialogues between Taiwanese and Japanese legislators and favorable press coverage.

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