Japan’s political map has been redrawn again as the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) returned to power on the promise that it will be tough on China.
The next likely prime minister Shinzo Abe, has always been friendly toward Taiwan, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement saying that relations between Taiwan and Japan have always been good and that the ministry is confident that once the LDP takes over, this foundation will result in an even smoother development of bilateral relations. Domestic experts on Japan also agree that this development will lead to better relations between the two countries.
We should not forget the past, but instead let it be a guide for the future.
As we all know, when former US president Ronald Reagan was still governor of California, he angrily denounced then-US president Jimmy Carter for treachery when his administration abandoned the Republic of China and transferred diplomatic recognition to the government of the People’s Republic of China.
Reagan was a staunch anti-communist and famously said that “the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history” in a speech delivered on June 8, 1982.
When Reagan was elected president in late 1981, the feeling among US and foreign affairs experts was one of optimism. Indeed, Sino-US relations took a great leap forward, and on Aug. 17, 1982, the US and Chinese governments issued their second joint Shanghai Communique, also known as the 817 Communique.
The communique said that “… the United States Government states that it does not seek to carry out a long-term policy of arms sales to Taiwan, that its arms sales to Taiwan will not exceed, either in qualitative or in quantitative terms, the level of those supplied in recent years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and China and that it intends gradually to reduce its sale of arms to Taiwan, leading, over a period of time, to a final resolution.”
Needless to say, no mature democracy will intentionally harm its national interests based on the preferences of one person.
When it comes to the rights in its surrounding territorial waters, Japan has to cope with China’s activities around the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) where enforcement and military vessels continue to enter the 12 nautical mile zone (22.2km) around the islands for “routine” patrols. This has now been followed by government-owned aircraft entering the zone.
Japan also has to face pressure regarding territorial water rights from the UN, where China on Dec. 14 submitted a document to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, claiming waters extending beyond its 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone and reaching into the East China Sea continental shelf.
Considering China’s importance to the Japanese economy, in particular today when Japan’s military economy is not what it once was, a common sense view tells us that Abe’s China policy is unlikely to be as tough as he claimed during the election campaign, nor will he sacrifice Japan’s national interests for the sake of Taiwan.
Japan already knows that Taiwan is under both domestic and international pressure. In terms of the Diaoyutai Islands and the continental shelf issues, Taiwan also has irrevocable national interests. If Japan adopts the same basic view as China and restricts itself to the so-called “one China” principle and enters into negotiations with China without ensuring that Taiwan is allowed to take part, Taiwan’s interests in this region will be ignored.
If pro-China forces in Taiwan then start to apply pressure on the government, forcing it to become fully dependent on China or to follow its direction, Japan will lose its geographically closest ally.
In reality, faced with China’s continued expansion of its interests in waters neighboring its territory, Taiwan’s and Japan’s interests will not only converge, they will become interdependent.
The bilateral talks about fishing rights between Taiwan and Japan will undoubtedly be an important measure when trying to judge whether or not relations between the two countries will continue to improve, even more so following President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) East China Sea initiative, which calls for disputes to be shelved and for cooperation.
Both Taiwan and Japan should be ready to discuss the fishing rights issue, and use this opportunity for a resolution of sorts. One can only hope that the new Japanese government will bring a breath of fresh air and improved efficiency.
Chiang Huang-chih is a law professor at National Taiwan University.
Translated by Perry Svensson