Tue, Sep 18, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Could Aso be a friend of Taiwan?

Taiwan's "democracy is considerably matured and liberal economics is deeply ingrained, so it is a law-abiding country," then Japanese foreign minister Taro Aso said in March last year, adding that "in various ways, it is a country that shares a sense of values with Japan."

Aso's comment to a parliamentary committee led Beijing to accuse Japan of "crude interference in its internal affairs" and prompted assurances by Tokyo that Aso's comments did not constitute a change in Japanese policy vis-a-vis China and Taiwan.

Slip of the tongue or not, Aso, who last week announced his candidacy to replace Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, had said something that could only please Taipei.

True, Aso has a tendency to glorify Japan's colonial past and a discomforting talent for making politically incorrect comments, but perhaps a firebrand like him is what is needed in the region, which is increasingly mired in the muck of a "status quo" that has only benefited China.

When it comes to Taiwan, the Tokyo-Beijing rapprochement engineered by Abe has not been to Taipei's benefit, and the "political correctness" Tokyo adopted on issues of resonance in Beijing -- Japan's war past and Taiwan, mostly -- only served to diminish the pressure on the Chinese leadership to change its antiquated view of the world.

There are already too many leaders who are willing to cozy up to Beijing -- and what good has that done Taiwan or Tibet, or the countless Chinese locked up in jail for seeking human rights?

Aso, perhaps, isn't such a leader, and therein lies a tremendous opportunity for Taiwan.

For, truth be told, Taiwan suffers from a severe case of Dutch Disease, the term political scientists use to describe a country that relies to such an extent on a single natural resource to function that once that resource expires or its proceeds are diverted, the country faces an existential threat. Diplomatically speaking, Taiwan is just like one of those states, but in this case the "resource," rather than being timber or oil, is the US, around whose political decisions Taiwan's fate seems to revolve.

The only way states suffering from Dutch Disease can improve their chances of survival is to diversify so that the removal of the primary resource would not engender a fall into chaos. Taiwan, therefore, should seek to diversify its allies, with a special focus on major powers -- like Japan, for example, which is not only an economic powerhouse capable of competing with China but also one that happens to have cultural affinities with Taiwan. And it is a regional power, perhaps even in its ascendancy in terms of political engagement and military clout.

By grooming leaders like Aso, Taiwan would substantially improve its odds of survival as a sovereign country in the advent of a US disengagement from the Taiwan Strait.

The US has been a good ally of Taiwan, but it is an ally that has numerous responsibilities around the globe and whose attention span is no match for Beijing's. Having the leaders of other major allies on its side, therefore, wouldn't hurt Taiwan.

Although there is no guarantee Aso will be Japan's next prime minister, wouldn't it be nice if, for once, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) were no longer the only outspoken diplomat speaking in favor of Taiwan as a country?

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