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Wednesday, November 1, 2006

In the news

Although my major was in Political Science, and though I do try to keep up with current affairs and international events, I prefer to keep this blog a personal one. I am, however, interested in the relationship between Japan and Taiwan, and today I came across a couple of items touching on this. The first is an article from the latest Japan Focus newsletter, "The Ryukyus and Taiwan in the East Asian Seas: A Longue Durée Perspective". Unfortunately, it turned out to be yet another example of how expository writing remains a mystery in this part of the world. The writer, a member of Taiwan's Academia Sinica, writes briefly on the decline and fall of the Ryukyu Kingdom as a trading center in East Asia, then on Taiwan's economic development. He hints at a connection between the fall of the former and the rise of the latter, but then fails to make one, instead veering off on brief, but unrelated, tangents about South Korea and the territorial definition of the Republic of China. Along the way he seems to suggest that the tributary state system imposed by the Ming government on neighboring countries was a benevolent act allowing the Ryukyus in particular to prosper (and which the Japanese destroyed), and that the present-day Okinawa prefecture has much more in common with China culturally and historically than it does with Japan, downplaying the island chain's long ties with Japan (not to mention implying that China still has some sort of claim to the territory). His conclusion is that Taiwan could learn from the Ryukyu experience how to remain independent and prosper economically while playing off China and Japan, but this appears to be a strange comparison, in that as far as I know the Japanese don't have any claims on Taiwan (the Senkakus don't count). Seeing as the Ryukyu kingdom was eventually swallowed up by and incorporated into the Japanese Empire, all one can do is wish Taiwan the best of luck and hope it doesn't suffer a similar fate at the hands of the Chinese!

The other item of note is from today's Taipei Times, a front-page article on Chen Shui-bian's call for Japan to pass its own version of America's Taiwan Relations Act. Japan and Taiwan have been growing closer politically in recent years, and the recent installment of Shinzo Abe as prime minister will probably accelerate the process. However, Chen's call for a Japanese TRA would take away a key component of Japan's foreign policy in regard to China and Taiwan, namely the current ambivalence about how Japan would respond should China act aggressively towards Taiwan. Closer consultation and cooperation between Japan and Taiwan on security matters would be a positive step for both countries (and will probably continue to happen), but a Diet act spelling out that relationship is unlikely at this point.

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