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Sunday, November 25, 2007

In the news ニュース

We're getting ready to go to Seattle シアトル for the day, but I've noticed that the Japan Times has a follow-up article on Ma Ying-jeou's 馬英九 visit to Japan. It seems the trip has been a success a for Ma, judging by the headline: "Taiwan's Ma winning converts in Nagata-cho 永田町". To quote:

"Last year in July, when Taiwanese presidential hopeful Ma Ying-jeou, then mayor of Taipei, visited Japan, his reception by Japanese lawmakers and the media was, at times, chilly. Ma's grilling by the Diet for being 'anti-Japanese' dominated local headlines. But as the opposition Nationalist Party lawmaker wrapped up another three-day visit to Japan on Friday, he seemed to have won converts among Japan's power brokers. One of the many signs that Tokyo is warming to Ma was a secret meeting between the Kuomintang (KMT) 中国国民党 front-runner and 'multiple Japanese government officials' Thursday. The meeting ranks as a first...That Tokyo would risk a row with China by allowing Cabinet officials to meet a Taiwanese presidential candidate speaks volumes about Japan's attitude toward Ma. It would appear Tokyo attaches great importance to Ma and his ideas for boosting relations as, possibly, Taiwan's next president."

Faced with the prospect of the KMT winning the presidency next year, it makes good political sense for Japan to hedge its bets. Perhaps Ma has also begun to realize the importance of maintaining good relations with the Japanese:

"The KMT, which identifies strongly with Chinese culture and nationalism, has traditionally faired poorly in wooing Tokyo. Ma hopes to improve those relations as Japan becomes a more important trading and strategic partner for Taiwan."

Then again, Taiwan is one Asian country where anti-Japanese rhetoric doesn't necessarily result in more votes for a political candidate, unlike in South Korea. Japan, for its part, prefers things in this part of the world to remain stable:

"Behind Ma's improved reception in Tokyo are his vows to improve Taipei-Tokyo ties while maintaining the status quo in the Taiwan Strait — a potential global flash-point that would likely impact Japan. China, which has vowed to unify Taiwan with the mainland, threatens to attack the island if it tries to make its independence stance a permanent one. Those threats keep Tokyo concerned because any conflict in the strait could see intervention from the United States, which would drag the Japanese military into the conflict via a joint defense pact and affect its southern territory. Ma wooed lawmakers this time by promising peace in the strait through improved economic and security relations with Beijing. He also vowed to make Taiwan a 'hard rock' by maintaining defense spending 'at no less than 3 percent of Taiwan's growth domestic product.' Central to Ma's message to Tokyo was a vow to seek 'neither unification nor independence,' while taking steps to otherwise ratchet down tensions in the strait, if elected."

In true Ma fashion, there were promises made all around:

"Ma's vision for closer Taiwan-Japan links also won converts, as a long, smiling embrace with Yokohama 横浜 Mayor Hiroshi Nakada made clear. A tentative agreement between Ma and Nakada to start a pilot student-exchange program between Taipei and Yokohama topped Ma's list of proposals. If elected, Ma said he would also seek a free-trade agreement with Japan increase tourism between the two countries and attract more Japanese students to Taiwanese universities."

As the U.S. learned last year when Ma visited, there is a big difference between what he says and what he does. At that time, Ma promised American officials he would end the KMT's stonewalling over the American arms package for Taiwan, a pledge that came to nothing once Ma was back in Taiwan. Let's hope Japanese government figures aren't as trusting.

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