Last week, former Japanese minister of defense Shigeru Ishiba led four bipartisan members of the Japanese House of Councillors and the House of Representatives on a visit to Taiwan. When Ishiba and other delegation members met with President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on Thursday last week, they said they would continue to promote the ideas of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. The purpose of the trip was considered to be the direction of revision of the three major defense documents to be published by Japan at the end of the year.
Ishiba twice ran against Abe for the chair of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). At the end of last year, when the party chair was re-elected, he supported Japanese lawmaker Taro Kono against Abe. Membership in the Ishiba faction dropped sharply after congressional elections, then the faction collapsed and was transformed into a “member group,” with the number of LDP factions reduced from seven to six.
Did Ishiba lead a delegation to Taiwan at this time just because of his sudden change in stance against Abe regarding security and China policy, or did he want to use Abe’s pro-Taiwan “box office” advantage to visit Taiwan and try to regain momentum before returning to Japan?
No matter what the answer, because of Abe’s sudden passing, playing the “Taiwan card” has become a new trend in Japanese and US politics to win votes regardless of party affiliation.
Among the LDP factions, Seiwakai, to which Abe belonged, dominates the Indo-Pacific strategic line, which is pro-US, supports Taiwan and seeks balance with China; while Kouchikai, to which Kishida belongs, dominates the economic development line, which is pro-US, aims to keep friendship with Taiwan and stabilize relations with China.
After Abe’s death, Japanese politics moved toward a situation that favors Kishida’s leadership.
On the one hand, the Abe faction is lacking a strong leader to take over the baton, and its ranks might be separated by the Kishida and Motegi factions. On the other hand, US President Joe Biden’s plan to reduce import tariffs on China to tamp down rising inflation at home gives Kishida the opportunity to repair economic and trade ties with China. It also casts doubt on Taiwan-Japan relations due to Kishida’s consideration regarding Japan’s economic interests in China.
The US-led Indo-Pacific strategy and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework aim to link Indo-Pacific democracies to contain China militarily and economically. Whether the democratic regime in Taiwan can survive would be key to preventing China becoming a new hegemony in the region.
There are two reasons: First, Taiwan is at the core of the first island chain. If China unifies Taiwan by force, the Taiwan Strait would become China’s internal sea, which would force Japan to divert its oil lifeline. Meanwhile, China’s military would also break through the first island chain.
Second, Taiwan has irreplaceable advanced semiconductor process technology and is the only source of semiconductors for advanced technology in the US. If Taiwan is annexed by China, US technology hegemony would be subverted and replaced by China. This is also the reason Abe proposed that “if Taiwan is in danger, it would be related with Japan, and as well as the security assurance of the United States and Japan.”
Therefore, within the framework of the Indo-Pacific strategy, Taiwan-Japan relations have become a community of life, which would not be weakened by Abe’s death.
Jeff Sheng is chief researcher at the American Chamber of Commerce in Kaohsiung.
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