After Abe’s statement, Taiwan’s Tsai should give up her illusions

By Chen Yang Source:Global Times Published: 2018/5/16 15:53:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang urged Japan to keep its promise of sticking to the one-China policy on the Taiwan issue during talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on May 9, according to Xinhua. Abe responded by saying that Japan will only have non-governmental exchanges with Taiwan in keeping with Tokyo's agreement with Beijing. Abe's statement drew headlines in Taiwan with media outlets saying it was the first time he had gone public with his stance on Taiwan after being re-elected. Although Taiwan authorities haven't responded, it is no less serious than losing another of its "diplomatic allies."

Abe's statement is predictable. During Japan's "Golden Week" in early May, the pro-Taiwan Japanese parliamentarians in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) didn't visit Taiwan as they used to in the past. Instead, only a few parliamentarians in the non-ruling parties visited Taiwan. Abe's brother Nobuo Kishi, the main backer of Japan's "relations with Taiwan," suddenly cancelled his trip one week before his planned visit to Taiwan in early May. These facts indicate that the Abe administration is exercising restraint on the Taiwan issue, and this somehow reflects the Japanese prime minister's sincerity in improving China-Japan relations.

Abe's promise shows that "Taiwan independence" and Taiwan authorities are just tools of Japan to deal with its relations with China. Since January 2016, when Tsai Ing-wen was elected leader of Taiwan, there have been interactions between the Abe administration and Taiwan authorities. For example, Japan's Senior Vice Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications, Jiro Akama, visited Taiwan in March 2017, and Japan renamed its "Interchange Association" in Taiwan "Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association." Such interactions made Taiwan authorities illusionary. For instance, they sought to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement led by Japan, and hinted at joining the "Indo-Pacific" strategy in which Japan is a participant.

It's worth noting that in the past two years, Japan cooperated with the US in rebalancing the Asia-Pacific strategy and meddled in the South China Sea issue, which sent Sino-Japanese ties into a tailspin. The Abe administration's then diplomatic strategy toward China was a policy of containment, hence the need for developing "relations" with Taiwan. As China-Japan relations improve, Tokyo will lose, instead of gaining, if it still uses Taiwan as a bargaining chip.

Abe's statement again shows the fact that "relations" between Japan and Taiwan are secondary to Sino-Japanese ties, no matter how close Japan and Taiwan are.

Since Abe has explicitly stated his stance, Taiwan authorities should stop being delusional. In fact, Abe and Tsai are personal friends. Before being elected leader of Taiwan, Tsai paid a few visits to Japan as Chairman of DPP. In 2010 and 2011, Abe visited Taiwan twice as ex-prime minister, and held talks with Tsai. In 2016, Abe sent his congratulations after Tsai was elected leader of Taiwan. However, Abe's promise shows that national interest always comes first, and Taiwan authorities' pro-Japan steps are just wishful thinking. Tsai should drop the illusionary idea of opposing Chinese mainland and seeking "Taiwan independence" taking advantage of games between major powers.

Abe's statement on the Taiwan issue is certainly worth appreciating. However, we still need to be vigilant. Although his statement will shock Japan's pro-Taiwan and Taiwan independence groups, it may not end the collusion between Japan and Taiwan. After all, Tokyo still maintains ambiguous "relations" with Taiwan since 1972 when China and Japan normalized ties.

Besides, Japan and Taiwan repeatedly tested the bottom-line of the one-China policy and collaborations between politicians in Japan and Taiwan have become common. Therefore, we have to wait and see whether Abe's statement is an opportunist act or a long-term policy toward Taiwan, and whether Taiwan authorities will wake up to reality and stop being under an illusion.

The author is an editor at Global Times and a research fellow on Japan issues.


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