Akama’s Taiwan visit serves multiple goals

Source:Global Times Published: 2017/3/30 21:08:41

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

 Editor's Note:

Japanese Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Jiro Akama visited Taiwan on Saturday, becoming the highest-level government official to visit the island since Japan broke diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1972. What are his intentions? How will the visit influence Sino-Japanese relations? The Global Times talked with two Chinese experts on the issue.

Chang Sichun, associate research fellow with the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Akama became the first high-level official to visit Taiwan since 1972 on Saturday. It was a move to, once again, test Beijing's bottom line for Tokyo's Taiwan policy after Tokyo renamed the former Interchange Association, Japan (IAJ), responsible for maintaining unofficial relations with Taiwan, as the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association on January 1.

Since Democratic Progressive Party, led by Taiwan's current leader Tsai Ing-wen, won the election in 2016, Abe's administration has shown extreme interest in Tokyo's ties with the island and has taken every chance to showcase how close the relationship is between Japan and Taiwan. Tokyo's tendency of proactively using Taiwan as a pawn to contain China has become more and more apparent.

Alarmingly, apart from Tokyo seeking to strengthen its political and economic relationship with the island, it also tries to make a breakthrough in Japan's security partnership with the island in an attempt to counter China's maritime strategy.

The political and legal status of Taiwan and ties between Taiwan and Japan are major obstacles in Sino-Japanese relations since the San Francisco Peace Treaty took effect in 1952.

After China overtook Japan as the world's second largest economy, Tokyo has become wary of Beijing's rise and started to expand its alliances to contain China's growth. Since Abe took office again in 2012, the nation's politics have been rapidly drifting to the right while its society has become more and more conservative. The two sides of Japan's China policy have become more apparent. On the one hand, Japan wants to benefit from China's economic development. On the other, Tokyo spared no effort to counterbalance China over the latter's emergence.

This year marks the 45th anniversary of China-Japan diplomatic normalization. Tokyo should not challenge Beijing's core interests. Instead, the two countries should face history squarely and work together in a bid to build a bilateral relationship based on mutual understanding and respect.

Despite some divergences in interests, China and Japan should continue the people-to-people exchange and step up their effort in the extensive cooperation in fields like environmental protection, senior care in an ageing society and tourism.

Li Ruoyu, assistant research fellow at the Institute of Japanese Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said the visit contradicts to Japan's policy of only having non-governmental and local level exchanges with Taiwan. China is resolutely opposed to it.

Akama's visit to Taiwan shows Japan's intention of altering its relationship with the island. It is worth noting that there are other actions taken by the Japanese government recently that resemble Akama's recent visit. For example, on January 1, IAJ was renamed Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association. According to its official website, the association is expected to act as a bridge between Japan and Taiwan, and contribute to a better relationship between the two.

At present, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is in a difficult position as he has been involved in a scandal over donations to a right-wing Japanese kindergarten. Akama's visit may be a way to divert the public's attention from the scandal to Sino-Japanese ties.

Some media speculated the Abe administration is ready to deepen its partnership with Taiwan. It can be proved by a number of factors. First, there have always been pro-Taiwan forces in the National Diet of Japan, the country's legislature. Moreover, Taiwan's "vice-president" Chen Chien-jen publicly claimed that although Taiwan and Japan have no diplomatic relations, the two have formed a special partnership.

In recent years, due to Japan's actions on the Diaoyu Islands and South China Sea issues, the official exchanges between China and Japan have declined. As China doesn't want to influence the friendly exchanges of peoples from the two countries because of a few right-wing politicians' behaviors, the non-governmental exchanges between China and Japan are still relatively frequent.

This year marks the 45th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties between Japan and China, which provides an opportunity to warm up the bilateral relationship. However, at this critical moment, Akama visited Taiwan and dampened the Sino-Japanese relations.


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