ANALYSIS: Japanese envoy’s remarks still reverberate

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

Tue, Jul 28, 2009 - Page 3

Despite an announcement by the National Security Council (NSC) last week that NSC Secretary-General Su Chi (蘇起) would soon meet Japanese Representative to Taiwan Masaki Saito, pundits speculated that the political stalemate between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government and the Japanese representative is far from over.

Media outlets have recently reported lingering tension between top-ranking Taiwanese officials and Saito over a comment he made in May, when he said that Taiwan’s status remained undefined since Japan withdrew from the country after World War II.

While some media has interpreted Su’s planned meeting as an “end to a ban” on contact between senior Taiwanese officials and Saito, there was no sign that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), Vice President Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) or Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) were interested in meeting Saito.

Saito made the comments while attending an annual meeting of the Republic of China (ROC) International Relations Association at National Chung Cheng University in Chiayi County.

The remarks came days after Ma declared that the 1952 Sino-Japanese Peace Treaty (also known as the Treaty of Taipei) affirmed the transfer of Taiwan’s sovereignty from Japan to the ROC. Ma’s statement deviated from his previous claim that it was the 1943 Cairo Declaration that gave the ROC claim to Taiwan.

Saito apologized for his remarks after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs lodged a protest and demanded an explanation. Saito said it was purely his personal view and that his comment did not reflect the position of the Japanese government.

INTERPRETATIONS

Pro-unification groups have long claimed that the 1943 accord and the Potsdam Declaration of 1945 gave China the right to resume sovereignty over Taiwan and Penghu. Independence advocates, however, say the 1943 declaration was little more than a press release and cite the 1952 treaty to argue that Taiwan’s international status remains undefined.

After Beijing complained to Tokyo over Saito’s comments, Ma restated his position when he met a Japanese parliamentarian.

The KMT caucus urged the Executive Yuan to declare Saito persona non grata and asked Tokyo to recall him, while pro-unification groups also condemned him, demanding he leave the country and that Tokyo apologize.

Taiwan independence supporters, on the other hand, said the Japanese government and Saito need not apologize because he “told the truth.”

Chen Yen-hui (陳延輝), a professor at National Taiwan Normal University’s Graduate Institute of Political Science, said the political standoff was far from over. Although Su had agreed to meet Saito, Su’s role as a presidential aide did not carry much weight. However, Chen said he was glad to see both parties make a concession.

Chen said the Ma administration overreacted to the Japanese envoy’s comments, adding that he did not think Saito had any ulterior motive when he made the remark, which was a prominent interpretation of Taiwan’s situation.

As Taipei and Tokyo do not have diplomatic relations, Saito enjoys the freedom to speak his mind because he is technically not a diplomat but a representative of a private organization, Chen said.

Hawang Shiow-duan (黃秀端), a political science professor at Soochow University, said the Ma administration’s reaction violated diplomatic etiquette.

Criticizing the government for acting on an impulse, Hawang said she was nonetheless not surprised at the administration’s reaction because Ma has never been close to Japan.

She agreed with Chen, saying that Saito merely cited an academic theory to express his personal opinion, and that Saito might not have expected his comments would create such a controversy.

Frank Liu (劉正山), an associate professor at National Sun Yat-sen University’s Institute of Political Science, said Su’s meeting with Saito would be a token of goodwill.

FRIENDS OF JAPAN?

As Ma now doubles as KMT chairman, Liu said it would be to his advantage to be friendly with all countries.

Ma is tougher toward Japan than his predecessors were because he believes he no longer needs to form an alliance with Tokyo to counter Beijing, Liu said.

While what Saito said was not new, Liu said he did not believe a seasoned diplomat would express an opinion on a sensitive issue at a non-academic discussion.

If a diplomat did so, Liu said he was either conveying an official message or testing the water.

Liu said he did not think the Ma administration overreacted because it was not surprising to see the KMT bothered by Saito’s remarks

If the KMT was irritated by similar comments made Taiwanese, it was bound to feel more offended if the comment was made by an outsider, he said.

“For a government, the legitimacy of its rule is very important,” he said. “I believe the Ma administration knows very well about Taiwan’s status, but chooses to deny it.”