Abe, Tsai turn Twitter into informal communication platform

By Chen Yang Source:Global Times Published: 2018/6/24 20:18:39

The recent social media bonhomie between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen is telling. Earthquakes that brought death and destruction led the leaders to send condolences in each other's language, an apparently humane gesture. 

The Twitter exchange started after a 6.1-magnitude earthquake struck the Japanese coastal city of Osaka on June 18, killing at least five and injuring more than 300. Although the damage to houses was not significant, large-scale water-logging because of leaks led to traffic congestion.

After the quake, Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen tweeted her condolences in Japanese and English to the people in the disaster-struck area, and also forwarded a condolence tweet by Abe.

Two days later, Abe expressed his gratitude to Taiwan in Chinese and Japanese tweets, and also forwarded a tweet by Tsai. With the aid of social networks, Abe and Tsai seem to be cunningly seeking another form of bilateral talks.

In fact, this is not the first time that the two leaders have used natural disasters to interact on social networks. Two days after a strong earthquake hit eastern Taiwan on February 6 this year, killing at least 10 people and injuring hundreds, Abe posted an image with Chinese calligraphy which said "Taiwan persevere" on his official Facebook account. Tsai quickly responded with gratitude by sending a Japanese tweet and it was forwarded one day later by Abe in Chinese and Japanese, saying that Japan was with Taiwan.

The social media interactions between the leaders on the natural calamity are similar. The interval of the responses was almost within three days. The post-disaster social network interaction seems to be a "tacit understanding" between Abe and Tsai. Abe may be the only leader in the world who is willing to interact with Tsai.

Extending condolences through social media is worthy of recognition. But I do think one should take it with a pinch of salt if Abe and Tsai make use of disasters to communicate the feelings of Japanese and Taiwanese. It cannot be ruled out that the two leaders will trade support on regional events or a public issue via social media in the future, which in essence will become a new form of summit.

For a long time, some Japanese politicians have lacked self-restraint on the Taiwan question. Immediately after Sino-Japanese diplomacy was formally normalized on September 29, 1972, Japan severed relations with Taiwan. Politicians in China and Japan had certainly not imagined that leaders of Japan and Taiwan would be able to talk on social media after 30 to 40 years.

However, the situation has come about because some Japanese politicians failed to fully comply with the spirit of the 1972 China-Japan Joint Statement. Without full self-restraint, they always try to "play edge ball" on the Taiwan question.

The Twitter interactions between Abe and Tsai appear to be nothing special. But if one factors in Abe's continuous petty tricks on the Taiwan question and Tsai's insistence on "Taiwan independence," any online interaction between the two will encourage Japanese rightists and "Taiwan independence" forces.

Therefore, although we cannot stop Abe or Tsai from interacting on social media, we must resolutely hit back at any words that cross the red line, and not allow them to spread canards.

The diplomatic interactions between Abe and Tsai seem to be smart and influential, but it will not change the reality that Taipei's ties with Tokyo are just part of relations between China and Japan.

The several interactive tweets by Abe and Tsai did have some forwarded messages and seemed to be very popular. However, social networking has its limits. Even if the online sensation boils over, its impact is largely limited.

The one-China principle has long been entrenched in and is a broad consensus of the international community. How can it be overturned by a few online murmurs? It is hoped that Abe will be restrained and Tsai can realize it.

The author is an editor at the Global Times and a research fellow on Japan issues. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn


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