The mutual trust between Taiwan and Japan that the former Democratic Progressive Party government developed over eight years has been smashed by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his administration, and is now on the verge of collapsing.
Within 100 days of Ma’s accession to power, there have been five incidents that have had an impact on the nation’s relations with Japan. First, Ma announced that he intended to pay a visit to Japan during a press conference with foreign journalists without first talking it over with Tokyo.
Second, he intentionally failed to mention Japan in his inaugural address.
Next, he vacillated on his position in handling the controversy over the Diaoyutai (釣魚台) islands and violated the almost three-decade-long tacit agreement between the two countries that patrol vessels would not be dispatched to the disputed waters.
Ma also claimed there was an “exchange of classified letters” between high-level officials of the two countries to resolve the Diaoyutai issue.
Now, he has even allowed rumors to circulate in the media about the candidate for Taiwan’s representative to Japan before having discussed the issue with the Japanese government.
Among these incidents, media reports on the alleged “exchange of confidential letters” between high-ranking officials have particularly battered mutual trust. A Central News Agency report on July 21 said the Japanese government had dismissed talks of a confidential exchange, adding that these rumors only hurt bilateral relations. A high-ranking official from the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs also told me of his surprise and bewilderment over the misleading reports in Taiwan.
Tokyo was already a bit concerned about Taiwan equivocating on the Diaoyutai issue and these rumors about secret exchanges have only raised concerns that the Ma administration would willingly fabricate stories to increase his political standing. Several Japanese diplomats have pointed out that Ma still has to publicly apologize for his fictitious story about meeting former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe in 2006. These recent rumors of a private exchange of letters between Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and Taiwan have only added to Tokyo’s suspicions about the Ma government’s integrity. Thus it is not alarmist talk at all to say that Taiwan-Japan relations are on the verge of collapse.
Taiwan’s relations with the US and Japan are the foundation of cross-strait relations. Only by building good trust with these two allies can Taiwan have leverage over its negotiations with China. Beijing had already taken advantage of the upcoming Olympics to denigrate Taiwan by changing its title in defiance of the 1989 Hong Kong agreement because it believed the Ma administration had lost the trust of the US and Japan.
If Ma continues to hold on to his foolish policy of placing cross-strait relations ahead of other diplomatic relations and that Taiwan should move closer to China while distancing itself from the US and Japan, it is very likely that Taiwan will be forced to succumb to a unification framework before Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) leaves office in 2012.
Lai I-chung is an executive committee member of the Taiwan Thinktank.
TRANSLATED BY TED YANG