Wed, Jul 20, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Olympic bid support reveals Japanese trend

GOOD NEIGHBORS?Tokyo is increasingly vocal about its support for Taiwan as a de facto independent state, in large part due to skepticism about China's intentions

By Mac William Bishop  /  STAFF REPORTER

When Tokyo hosted the Olympics in 1964, the event was seen as a symbol of Japan's completed recovery from postwar occupation and the country's having rejoined the world community as a normal nation after becoming a pariah for its role in World War II.

One of Japan's leading newspapers, the conservative Japanese-language daily Sankei Shimbun, on Monday suggested that Taiwan, too, could use the Olympics as a means of demonstrating to the world its sovereign status and its rightful place among the world's nations.

The opinion piece in the Japanese mass-circulation daily supported the proposal by Premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) for Taiwan to make a bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games. The Sankei said the move would boost Taiwan's international profile and illustrate the reality of its de facto independence.

Although this opinion piece can hardly be viewed as a declaration of official Japanese support for a Taiwanese Olympic bid, it is clear that the Japanese government and public -- who have long been sympathetic to Taiwan's situation and skeptical of China's intentions in the region -- are becoming ever more supportive of their former colony.

This shift in support can be ascribed to two factors: ideology and strategic interest.

The ideological basis for Japan's desire to give support to Taiwan is a direct result of the the two countries' status as open liberal democracies, as opposed to the authoritarian, opaque Chinese government. The strategic aspect is a byproduct of Japan's historic competition with China to become the region's pre-eminent power.

"[Beijing] has tried with some success to replace popular aspirations for democracy with nationalism," veteran Japanese diplomat Hisahiko Okazaki wrote in the Sankei on June 29.

"Japan has been shy about promoting liberal democracy. From now on, though, we should behave confidently as a standard bearer for liberal democracy," Okazaki wrote.

It is not only Japanese conservatives who are concerned about China's militarization and growing nationalist fervor. This was illustrated most clearly when the EU began discussing lifting its ban on arms sales to China.

"Lifting the ban is also a serious matter for Japan, which would not welcome growing Chinese military power that would tilt the military balance in Asia ... It would be a disaster if the European trend led to an intensifying arms race across the Taiwan Strait," the liberal Japanese-language daily Asahi Shimbun wrote in a Feb. 19 editorial.

"The Japan-US Security Treaty includes measures to deal with emergency situations in Taiwan, and that is all the more reason the Japanese government must demand careful deliberation from Europe," the Asahi said.

The document that the editorial refers to, the "Treaty of Mutual Security and Cooperation between the United States of America and Japan," does not, in fact, specifically mention Taiwan anywhere in its text.

It does however, imply that Japanese-US security cooperation could apply to Taiwan.

Article VI of the treaty states: "For the purpose of contributing to the security of Japan and the maintenance of international peace and security in the Far East, the [US] is granted the use by its land, air and naval forces of facilities and areas in Japan."

This implication was further clarified when, for the first time, the Japanese Defense Agency directly identified China as a security concern in its 2005 National Defense Program Guidelines, and a high-level US-Japan security committee issued a statement declaring the Taiwan Strait an "area of mutual concern."

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