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.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in January this year spoke of the importance of free trade and indicated China’s ambitions to take on a more global role at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. There are fears the vacuum left by the US’ pulling out could be filled by China, swinging regional influence its way instead.
The government should seek stronger ties with Tokyo, but it needs to proceed carefully, as the situation is fraught with danger.
During the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum’s third leadership summit on Aug. 31, US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said that the US wants to partner with the other members of the Quadrilaterial Security Dialogue — Australia, India and Japan — to establish an organization similar to NATO, to “respond to ... any potential challenge from China.” He said that the US’ purpose is to work with these nations and other countries in the Indo-Pacific region to “create a critical mass around the shared values and interest of those parties,” and possibly attract more countries to establish an alliance comparable to
On August 24, 2020, the US Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, made an important statement: “The Pentagon is Prepared for China.” Going forward, how might the Department of Defense team up with Taiwan to make itself even more prepared? No American wants to deter the next war by a paper-thin margin, and no one appreciates the value of strategic overmatch more than the war planners at the Pentagon. When the stakes are this high, you can bet they want to be super ready. In recent months, we have witnessed a veritable flood of high-level statements from US government leaders on
China has long sought shortcuts to developing semiconductor technologies and local supply chains by poaching engineers and experts from Taiwan and other nations. It is also suspected of stealing trade secrets from Taiwanese and US firms to fulfill its ambition of becoming a major player in the global semiconductor industry in the next decade. However, it takes more than just money and talent to build a semiconductor supply chain like the one which Taiwan and the US started to cultivate more than 30 years ago. Amid rising trade and technology tensions between the world’s two biggest economies, Beijing has become
With a new White House document in May — the “Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China” — the administration of US President Donald Trump has firmly set its hyper-competitive line to tackle geoeconomic and geostrategic rivalry, followed by several reinforcing speeches by Trump and other Cabinet-level officials. By identifying China as a near-equal rival, the strategy resonates well with the bipartisan consensus on China in today’s severely divided US. In the face of China’s rapidly growing aggression, the move is long overdue, yet relevant for the maintenance of the international “status quo.” The strategy seems to herald a new