Sun, Apr 02, 2017 - Page 6 News List

EDITORIAL: Filling the TPP vacuum

Another center of tension is coming to the fore in Asia at a time of new uncertainties: Taiwan-Japan-China relations, which have been complicated by the US’ retreat from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. Simmering enmity between China and Japan is rearing its ugly head again, fighting over the strategically important Taiwan, just as the US appears to be looking inward and losing interest in bolstering its influence in Asia.

Since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) took office in May last year, watched with much suspicion by Beijing, she has indicated that she wants closer ties with Japan.

On March 20, Tsai said that her administration had slated improved Taiwan-Japan relations as a diplomatic priority. In December last year, Japan renamed the Interchange Association, Japan — which represents Japan’s interests in Taiwan in the absence of diplomatic ties — the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association in a gesture of goodwill.

On Wednesday, it was reported in Japanese media that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Keisuke Suzuki that “Taiwan is an important partner that shares mutual values and interests with Japan.”

Abe’s comments came a few days after a visit to Taiwan by Japanese Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Jiro Akama, the highest-ranking Japanese official to have visited Taiwan since Japan severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1972, switching recognition from Taipei to Beijing.

The significance of this was not lost on China. It was reported on Thursday that China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Ma Xiaoguang (馬曉光) warned that Taiwan might face a “forceful backlash” as a consequence of Akama’s visit, which Beijing apparently considers “a severe breach of the spirit of the Four Political Documents between China and Japan.”

While quite small, these events are all symptomatic of regional players’ jostling for positions.

It is easy to see why China would not be comfortable with losing influence over Taiwan to Tokyo, especially when Tsai is in power and her government is attempting to reorient the nation’s economic ties through the “new southbound policy,” and now also toward Japan, which Beijing sees as a major challenge to its ambitions of regional hegemony.

It is also easy to see what Japan stands to gain from closer ties, especially when it might help wean Taiwan away from an overdependence on China. Abe has long been keen to maneuver Japan into a more assertive position in the region to meet the challenge presented by an increasingly bullish China.

For Taiwan, and certainly for the Tsai administration, economic dependence on China is intensely problematic, as it is a major plank in Beijing’s policy of achieving peaceful unification with Taiwan.

The balancing of power relations in the Asia region might have been more favorable for Tokyo and Taipei had the TPP gone ahead as expected. The decision by US President Donald Trump to pull out of negotiations leaves its future unpredictable. It also reinforces the perception that Trump might be turning US attention away from Asia.

The TPP is not yet dead in the water. Many nations are still engaged in negotiations. From the point of view of former US president Barack Obama’s administration, the TPP was at least partially intended to strengthen US influence in the region.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top