The seventh Summit on Taiwan-Japan Exchange was held in Kobe, Japan, on Nov. 12. The rude objections posed by Chinese “wolf warriors” before the meeting, plus the news that a joint Chinese and Russian naval flotilla sailed around Japan, passing through the Tsugaru, Osumi and Tsushima straits, angered councilors across Japan.
As a result, more than 500 guests, including 365 councilors from 70 local councils, attended the summit. It is all the more significant that such a large number of politicians attended the meeting, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
First consider the external factors. The 17th Japan-China Joint Public Opinion Survey, which was published last month, showed that more than 90 percent of Japanese have negative perceptions of China. In contrast, a poll published by Japan’s Central Research Services early this year showed that nearly 80 percent of Japanese felt an affinity with Taiwan. This shows that Japanese have widely differing feelings of closeness and alienation with regard to Taiwan and China.
Following China’s rise as a hegemonic power, it has spread its wolf’s claws in all directions to harm the interests of its neighbors. The haughty attitude of Chinese officials and the disorderly behavior of ordinary Chinese have made a deep impression on people in Japan. Local councilors reflect public opinion, so attending the Japan-Taiwan summit was the best way for them to say “no” to China.
Next, the internal factors. Of all Japanese prime ministers over the years, the most friendly toward Taiwan was Shinzo Abe, who stepped down last year. His successor, Yoshihide Suga, continued Abe’s Taiwan policy. However, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who appointed his first Cabinet on Oct. 4, comes from Hiroshima, which suffered the disaster of an atomic bomb, and this might be why he belongs to the anti-war Kochikai faction. All past leaders of the Kochikai, including Hayato Ikeda, Masayoshi Ohira and Koichi Kato, have leaned toward China and done things that were upsetting for Taiwanese.
When Kishida took office, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) promptly sent him a congratulatory message in which he said that the two sides should abide by their earlier agreements. This shows that China has high expectations of Kishida. When Kishida reshuffled his Cabinet on Nov. 10, it came as no surprise that he appointed Yoshimasa Hayashi, who is deputy leader of the Kochikai faction in Abe’s constituency and leader of the Japan-China Friendship Parliamentarians’ Union, to the post of minister of foreign affairs — clearly meant as an olive branch to China.
The Kishida administration, which says its main aim is reviving the economy, has its eyes on the Chinese market. It is bidding farewell to the setup of Taiwan-friendly former prime minister Abe and former minister of finance Taro Aso. This shift has worried many Japanese conservatives and is one of the reasons why this year’s summit was better attended than ever before.
Two decades ago, then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) overcame numerous obstacles to foster goodwill in Japan. Since Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) became representative to Japan five years ago, he has worked tirelessly to cultivate ties, which have grown from a trickle to a stream that no government leaders can ignore.
In the post-Abe, post-Suga period, the leaders of Taiwan and Japan might no longer have such a cozy personal relationship, but strongly pro-Taiwan public opinion in Japan would prevent any significant changes to the two countries’ mutually beneficial friendship.
Wang Hui-sheng is chief director of the Kisai Ladies’ and Children’s Hospital in Japan.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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