The timing of the recent interview with President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) by Japan’s state-owned broadcaster NHK conveyed several messages. One of these messages was that Japan is playing the “Taiwan card” against China in competing claims of sovereignity over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), according to a Taiwanese professor of politics.
In a piece published by the Chinese-language United Daily News yesterday, Fan Shih-Ping (范世平), a professor at the Graduate Institute of Political Science of National Taiwan Normal University and a visiting scholar at Japan’s Keio University, explored the reasoning behind the NHK interview with Ma.
He said the timing of the interview was “worthy of inquiry,” as it came at a time when China, South Korea and Japan were at sword point over the issue of the Diaoyutais (釣魚台), known in China as the Diaoyu Islands and in Japan as Senkaku, and of the contested islands the Japanese call Takeshima and South Koreans Dokdo.
The reason why NHK grants heads of state of any country an interview is not only based upon their newsworthiness but also on the impact on politics that the interview would ensue, Fan said.
There is no doubt that, before the interview, NHK knew that Ma would grasp the opportunity to let Japanese people know the Republic of China’s (ROC) stance on the Diaoyutai Islands and how Japan deals with it, Fan said.
In the interview, Ma said that the Diaoyutai Islands were territory of the ROC, and called on Japan to consider his East China Sea peace initiative, which calls for all claimants to shelve sovereignty claims and jointly develop the region. He also reassured Japan that Taiwan would not team up with China on the issue and proposed that the dispute be handled by the International Court of Justice.
According to Fan, there were three messages Japan intended to convey via the interview.
Japan wanted to get the message across to its people that sovereignty over the Diaoyutais is being disputed, a situation toward which Taiwan takes a rational attitude, while China resorts to nationalist appeals, Fan said.
Through the interview, Japan intended for its people to understand how Taiwan thinks of the Diaoyutai Islands and furthermore to sympathize with Taiwan, he said.
Second, he added, Japan tried to get China to understand that Japan could discuss the issue of the Diaoyutai Islands with Taiwan and not just with China. In recent years, there has been discontent with and misgivings about China in Japan. The interview shows that Japan has begun to play the “Taiwan card” in its dealings with China, as the US has done, Fan said.
Third, many people in Taiwan considered Ma’s East China Sea peace initiative as “a castle in the air,” but now Japan has given a positive response to the approach. It could be that Japan is not being sincere, but the interview could arouse public discussion in Japan about the proposal, Fan said.