Sun, Aug 09, 2015 - Page 8 News List

Lee’s really clever visit to Japan

By John Lim 林泉忠

Former president Lee Teng-hui’s (李登輝) recent visit to Japan has sparked controversy. It not only sent shock waves through Taiwan’s political circles, but also had an impact on the fraught relations between Japan and China. Moreover, it added new variables to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to China next month.

There are two focal points to Lee’s most recent visit to Japan. The first concerns the reported meeting between Lee and Abe.

Taiwan’s media have reported that Lee had a private meeting with Abe at Lee’s hotel, despite denials from Abe himself and from Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.

However, Japanese media, including the Sankei Shimbun, believe it did take place. Lee’s hotel was the Capitol Hotel Tokyu. The hotel is only 20m across the road from the Japanese prime minister’s official residence. Abe dines at the hotel’s restaurants quite frequently, and that is where the meeting is said to have taken place. If the meeting did indeed take place, it would be the first time that an incumbent Japanese prime minister has met with a former president from Taiwan. If it set a precedent, needless to say, it would affect relations between Japan and China.

The second focal point concerns the controversial remarks that Lee made in Japan: He said that the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan and claimed by both Taiwan and Japan, belong to Japan; he praised Japan’s colonial rule in Taiwan prior to World War II; and he said he has high regard for the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the US and Japan, which is a bone of contention in Japan.

His statement that Japan owns the Senkaku Islands was especially controversial, in that it contradicts the current stance of both the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). On one hand, it was an embarrassment to DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who Lee supports and who, like Lee, is in the pan-green camp. On the other hand, it prompted the KMT to accuse Lee of forfeiting national sovereignty and humiliating the nation, saying it would consider the removal of Lee’s privileges as a former president.

Since stepping down as president, Lee has visited Japan on seven occasions. It was not the first time that he made a public remark about the Senkaku Islands. However, Lee’s most recent visit to Japan has become extremely controversial because it took place less than two months ahead of Abe’s planned visit to China. Lee’s visit will inevitably add difficulties to Abe’s visit to China and make already fragile Sino-Japanese ties even harder to mend.

In November last year, Japan and China reached four agreements, which improved their relationship to some extent. However, this year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and Beijing is making exceptionally conspicuous preparations for a grand-scale military parade to commemorate China’s victory in the war against Japan, which is not being well received in Tokyo. The talk that Abe is scheduled to deliver on Saturday next week on the end of World War II has attracted considerable pressure both abroad and at home. Beijing has exerted its pressure by linking the speech with Abe’s visit to China next month, laying down three conditions that Japan must satisfy — strict compliance with the principles of the Joint Communique of the Government of Japan and the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the other three agreements, maintaining the spirit of the Murayama Statement and forbidding its prime ministers from paying respects at the Yasukuni Shrine.

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