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Saturday, December 22, 2007

In the news ニュース

Saturday's Japan Times has an article by Max Hirsch ("Taiwan's presidential candidates jostle to win Japan's crucial backing") on the recent visits to Japan by Taiwan's two leading presidential candidates, Ma Ying-jeou 馬英九 (Ba Eikyū) of the Kuomintang (Guomindang) 中国国民党, and the Democratic Progressive Party's 民主進歩党 Frank Hsieh 謝長廷 (Sha Chōtei):

"Such is the significance of Japan to Taiwan's March 22 presidential election, (that) tacit support from the vital trading and strategic partner could make or break the diplomacy platforms of Ma and Hsieh. Japan has emerged as a key battleground in the political fight for Taiwan's top job as both top candidates scramble to curry favor with Tokyo."

Hirsch points out just why Japan is so important:

"Taiwan's growing interest in Japan is...obvious. Amid booming trade and tourism links, Japan's importance to Taiwan on security hit a zenith in 2005 when Tokyo joined Washington in referring to Taiwan as a 'common strategic objective' — a veiled reference to possible intervention by the U.S. and Japan in a Taiwan Strait conflict...Economic ties further explain why wooing Japan is more important in this election than in the past. Taiwan's trade with Japan totaled nearly $63 billion last year, a record high as Japan overtook the U.S. as Taiwan's second-largest trading partner, after China. Taiwan ranks fourth among Japan's trading partners and the two exchanged 2.3 million tourists last year, a record high."

All compelling reasons for both Ma and Hsieh to pay a visit. Ma spent three days in November in Kyōto 京都, Tōkyō 東京 and Yokohama 横浜, and secretly met with several cabinet officials, in an attempt to convince Japanese power brokers that he is not anti-Japanese. Hsieh, meanwhile, went to Kyōto and Tōkyō for four days from last Sunday. He held meetings with:

"...former Prime Minister Yoshirō Mori 森喜朗 and Diet member Takeo Hiranuma 平沼赳夫, who leads the Japan-Republic of China Diet Members' Consultative Council — two Taiwan-friendly political heavyweights who Ma also visited last month."

as well as a secret get-together with former Foreign Minister Tarō Asō 麻生太郎.

(Aso is far from China's favorite Japanese political figure, as his Wikipedia entry illustrates: "Kyōdō News 共同通信社 reported that he had said on February 4, 2006 'our predecessors did a good thing' regarding compulsory education implemented during Japan's colonization of Taiwan. Mainichi Daily News reported that on March 9, 2006 he referred to Taiwan as a 'law-abiding country', which drew strong protest from Beijing, which considers the island a part of China. His implication that Taiwan is an independent nation contradicts the agreement made between Japan and China in 1972 日本国政府と中華人民共和国政府の共同声明 that the Beijing rather than T'aipei (Taibei) 台北 government be considered the sole legal government of China and that Taiwan be considered 'an inalienable part of the territory of the People's Republic of China.' On December 21, 2005, he said China was 'a neighbor with one billion people equipped with nuclear bombs and has expanded its military outlays by double digits for 17 years in a row, and it is unclear as to what this is being used for. It is beginning to be a considerable threat.'")

Both candidates also made proposals while in Japan:

"Ma proposed a free-trade agreement with Tōkyō, while Hsieh proposed security guarantees along the lines of Washington's Taiwan Relations Act 台湾関係法...Both Ma and Hsieh pledged to maintain peace in the Taiwan Strait by seeking talks with Beijing and further opening to China economically. Hsieh one-upped his rival by speaking fluent Japanese, honed during his graduate studies at Kyōto University 京都大学...The main difference between the otherwise strikingly similar platforms of Ma and Hsieh lies in Ma's conciliatory approach to cross-strait relations. Taiwan will back off assertions of sovereignty to ratchet down tensions if Ma wins. In contrast, Hsieh struck a harder tone Tuesday while speaking to the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan (FCCJ): 'If China continues to use force to threaten Taiwan, we will not be the only victim . . . Japan . . . will be threatened as well.'"

One interesting point Hirsch makes in his article is that Japan's importance to Taiwan has seemingly come at the expense of the United States' influence over the island:

"That both leading candidates sent their running mates to the U.S. on goodwill visits before visiting Japan themselves undermines another piece of conventional wisdom — that Washington mainly arbitrates the island's geopolitical fate. Trade relations and campaign schedules now point to Washington's emerging in a back seat role in Taiwan's diplomatic circumstances as Japan looms larger in Taipei. 'Relations with the U.S. have always been our No. 1 priority. Japan was No. 2 — Tōkyō typically stayed behind the scenes,' said George Tsai, a political scientist at Taipei's Chinese Cultural University 私立中国文化大学. 'Now, Japan is taking a more active role in Taiwan affairs,' Tsai said, citing U.S. pressure on Japan to step up regional engagement as Washington focuses on the Mideast."

Considering the China-pleasing remarks that Bush Administration officials like Condoleezza Rice have been making recently regarding Taiwan, it's no wonder Taiwan's former colonial master is looking like a more reliable partner.

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