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Friday, November 23, 2007

In the news ニュース

The day after Thanksgiving is a time for sales, the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Perhaps I'm just getting old, or I've been away for too long, but I don't remember things being this out of control. Some stores have been open since midnight, others from 4, 5 or 6am this morning, to get a head start on attracting the shoppers. We're supposed to go out later today, so I will get to see the madness up close and personal.

In the meantime, there's yet another article in the Japanese English-language media about Taiwan. In the Op-Ed section of today's Japan Times, this piece by former diplomat Hisahiko Okazaki says it all: "It's Taiwan's referendum". It's one of the most refreshing articles to appear about the planned U.N. 国際連合 referendum:

"...China has also tried to influence Japanese policy. The position of the previous administration of Shinzo Abe 安倍晋三 was that Tokyo should not take any definitive action — for a good reason. Four years ago, when Taiwan held a similar referendum at the time of the presidential election, Tokyo publicly conveyed its opposition to Taipei, evidently under pressure from Beijing (whether Japan came under pressure from the U.S. as well is unclear). That action badly hurt popular sentiments toward the Japanese. The reaction there was: Why is Japan meddling in the affairs of Taiwan while making no contributions to the island's security?"

Exactly! The article goes on to point out the obvious:

"The question at stake is rather simple. If a referendum is actually held next spring, will China use military force? The answer, if put to all schools of China experts including pro-China ones, invariably would be 'no.' With China hosting the next Olympics, it is simply inconceivable for that country to resort to force if Taiwan, instead of making a formal declaration of independence, just changed its name from the Republic of China to Taiwan in its annual membership application to the United Nations. If so, then what compelled Hu (Jintao) 胡錦濤 to drop the dark hint, and what is his real motive?"

The question is then answered:

"To Chen (Shui-bian) 陳水扁 and his supporters, the purpose of the referendum is clear: Having voters reaffirm their Taiwanese identity and thereby bring electoral gains to the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) 民主進歩党. In opinion polls asking 'Do you consider yourself Taiwanese or Chinese?,' an overwhelming majority say Taiwanese. So it is a foregone conclusion that most people will prefer the name of 'Taiwan,' not China, in its application for U.N. membership. In democratic elections everywhere, political parties devise their own methods for campaigns. As long as the campaigns are lawfully carried out, outsiders should stay on the sidelines. What China wants to see may well be the opposite of what the DPP wants to achieve. Beijing wants the Nationalist Party (KMT) 中国国民党 to win in the next presidential election, so it is trying indirectly to promote the KMT, because U.S. opposition to the referendum hurts the Democratic Progressives while helping the Nationalists."

Okazaki sums it up quite nicely. The referendum is an exercise in Taiwanese domestic politics, an effort by the DPP to bring out their supporters in next year's presidential election, while China's protests and threats are an attempt to influence the electorate to vote for the KMT, a party which would be more amenable to China's attempts at taking control over Taiwan.

The conclusion to Okazaki's article is brilliant, and needs no further comment:

"For the (Yasuo) Fukuda 福田康夫 administration, the right course to follow is to stick with the policy of the previous administration, no matter what China says or does. The people of Taiwan are our neighbors who have a deep affinity and close feelings of good will toward Japan. At a time when they are trying to run their country as democratically as Japan, it is unconscionable for the Japanese to betray these feelings. Moreover, Japan has no legal or moral reasons for doing so. After all, interference in the internal affairs of other countries is strictly prohibited among modern states. China may say that Taiwan represents its internal affair, but by asking foreign countries to interfere, China is tacitly admitting that Taiwan is more than just an internal affair."

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