Tue, Jul 06, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Koh leaves to take top Japan post

NEIGHBORSThe former dissident flew to Tokyo yesterday to become the nation's new de facto ambassador to Japan, and he says it will be a challenge

By Wang Hsiao-wen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Koh Se-kai, center, and his wife, are given a farewell by colleagues before flying to Tokyo to take up his new job as Taiwan's top representative to Japan yesterday.

PHOTO: TONY YAO, LIBERTY TIMES

Saying he will seek Japan's support for an independent Taiwan, the once-blacklisted former dissident Koh Se-kai (許世楷) flew to Tokyo to take up his new job as Taiwan's top representative to Japan yesterday.

"My other aim is to normalize relations between these two neighbors," Koh said before his departure.

Yesterday, the outgoing representative Lo Fu-cheng (羅福全), left his post to take the helm of the Association of East Asian Relations (AEAR, 亞東關係協會), which is the Taiwan headquarters of Taiwan's de facto embassy in Japan.

To strike a balance between Japan's pro-China policy and Taiwan's appeal for independence will be no easy task, but Koh appeared upbeat.

"Although Japan might not be able to recognize Taiwan openly, it cannot deny Taiwan's existence. One country on each side of the Taiwan Strait is a self-evident fact," Koh said in an interview with the Taipei Times following the AEAR's closed-door board meeting.

According to Koh, there is an invisible alliance between Taiwan and Japan.

"The US is mandated to come to Taiwan's defense under the Taiwan Relations Act, while Japan is also obliged to maintain regional security under the US-Japan Defense Guidelines. The two agreements weave a web of common interest shared by the US, Taiwan, and Japan," Koh said.

For Koh, formality is a side issue and adroit diplomacy can circumvent unnecessary rows over Taiwan's changing status.

"For example, we will not ask for an outright change to the [Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Japan's] name. But we will gradually move to have our name legitimized," Koh said.

The new AEAR chief, Lo, also painted a rosy picture of Taiwan-Japan relations.

"Not everyone in the Koizumi government is staunch supporter of the `one China' policy. Japan was actually delighted to see President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) re-elected," Lo said.

The former top representative to Japan also said that the overlap between Japan's and Taiwan's national interests has become larger. Lo's experience in diplomacy taught him that where there is an overlap of national interests, there is space for diplomatic leverage.

"There is a lot we can do," Lo said.

According to Lo, despite the lack of official ties between the two nations, mutual exchanges have been frequent and diversified.

"In academic circles, the University of Tokyo and Waseda University have set up Taiwan Studies programs to enhance Japan's understanding of Taiwan. Taiwan also attracted around 1.8 million to 2 million tourists from Japan this year, [an increase from 650,000 last year]," Lo said.

Taking the helm of AEAR from the hands of Hsu Shui-teh (許水德), the former president of the Examination Yuan, Lo said he will continue to promote mutual understanding between Japan and Taiwan in another arena.

Founded in 1972, the AEAR has sought to mend Japan-Taiwan relations after Japan severed its ties with Taiwan. For more than 30 years, the AEAR has served as Taiwan's single channel of communication with Japan. Many personalities have headed the private organization with government support, such as former secretary-general of National Security Council Chuang Ming-yao, (莊銘耀) and former national policy adviser to the president Lin Chin-ching (林金莖).

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