Barely five months have elapsed since the Japanese government reached a settlement with the Taiwanese owner of a fishing vessel that sank in an incident near the disputed Diaoyutai islands (釣魚台) last June.
At the time of the incident, a mere 20 days after the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) entered office, the KMT and pan-blue media blew the matter out of proportion, sparking nationalistic fervor and spewing venom at Taiwan’s former colonial master.
Through this outburst, with KMT legislators waxing self-righteously about the need to defend Taiwanese fishermen and uphold the government’s claim to the Diaoyutai, damage was done to relations with one of Taiwan’s staunchest allies. Despite Ma’s claim that he would seek to improve relations with the US and Japan after years of “trouble-rousing” diplomacy under the administration of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), the row sent a signal of strategic realignment in the Taiwan Strait, with Taipei leaning ever closer to Beijing.
As cross-strait talks continue and Taiwan jumps on the caravan to economic — if not political — integration with China, the KMT is once again fueling anti-Japanese sentiment, this time by attacking Masaki Saito, the head of the Japanese Interchange Association, over comments he made during a forum at National Chung Cheng University on Friday to the effect that Taiwan’s status is “still unresolved.”
Despite Saito’s subsequent apology, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrew Hsia (夏立言) and KMT Legislator John Chiang (蔣孝嚴) — the same John Chiang whose campaign headquarters printed a calendar in simplified Chinese that marked the People’s Republic of China National Day as a holiday — maintain that not enough was done to repair the envoy’s “serious gaffe.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs picked up the rhetoric yesterday, saying that Saito’s comment was “inaccurate” and “damaging to our government,” views that, according to Ma’s spokesman, the president shared.
Once again, the Ma administration is trying to pick a fight with Tokyo over a small incident. This time, the irritant is trivial. But just as with the Diaoyutai incident, when it comes to Japan, apologies are never enough when the KMT casts itself as the epitome of patriotism. Regardless of whether Saito’s remarks were his opinion — which he said they were — or that of the Japanese government (which it isn’t), there was nothing “damaging” in what was said.
The US government’s “acknowledgement” of Beijing’s “one China” policy is just as much an admission of Taiwan’s unresolved status as Saito’s comments, as is the position of the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross and many multilateral institutions that Taiwan cannot officially join, or must join under a different name.
It’s fine for the WHO and other bodies to insult Taiwan and refer to it as “Chinese Taipei,” but when it comes to Japan, one faux pas leads to a diplomatic row. It’s fine for Beijing to deny Taiwan’s existence or threaten it with an “Anti-Secession” Law (where was Chiang when millions of Taiwanese protested this “law” in 2005?), but when a Japanese uses the wrong words, we castigate him and poison our relations with Tokyo.
It’s getting clearer by the day: Despite Ma’s rhetoric, the deeds of his government are betraying a clear shift in Beijing’s favor and, in the process, the calculated alienation of Tokyo.