How did the 'Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association' become a spearhead against the one-China principle?
Published: Jun 09, 2022 02:04 AM
The view of Taipei Photo: VCG
The view of Taipei Photo: VCG

"We believe that no matter how the world may change, Japan and [the island of] Taiwan will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with determination and confidence in the next 50 years [...]" The "Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association" posted such remarks on its website. In a context where some Japanese politicians were advocating for strengthening intelligence collection amid shouts of "island of Taiwan and Japan's security are linked," the association, set up in the island after the normalization of China-Japan relations in 1972, again became a spearhead.

According to an exclusive report released by Japan's right-wing Sankei News on Saturday, the Japanese government has decided to send staff from Japan's Ministry of Defense to work at the so-called association's Taipei office as early as this summer.

The Global Times deciphered various tricks by the association, formerly known as the Interchange Association, over the past 50 years and found that it has always played an important political role between the Japanese government and the authorities of the island of Taiwan, which reflects its intentions of testing the mainland's bottom line on behalf of the Japanese government.

'Diplomatic service' without official title

The association was founded on December 1, 1972 after the normalization of China-Japan relations that year. The association is based in Tokyo with offices in Taipei and Kaohsiung.

According to the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, the association was originally established to maintain exchanges in economy, trade and culture with the island of Taiwan, and there is no reference to Japan on its name in consideration of the informal relations between Tokyo and the island.

The association, however, has acted beyond an unofficial body. It can be seen from how it included references to Japan and Taiwan when it rebranded the organization in January 2017. Additionally, the association also incorporated in its logo the image of Sakura, Japan's national flower, and plum blossom which is popular in the island of Taiwan. The change was hailed by many separatists in the island who see it a sign of the upgraded ties between two sides. Meanwhile, the government of the Chinese mainland has expresses strong opposition and urged the Japanese side not to send wrong messages.

The Japan-based newspaper Sankei Shimbun also reported that the Taipei office of the association is supposed to maintain people-to-people exchanges but in fact it functions as an "embassy."

In the eyes of some secessionists in the island of Taiwan, the association serves as a communication platform for official affairs between the two sides and for exchanges and cooperation in economy, trade, technology and other aspects. In essence, it is equivalent to an embassy, said observers.

It is reported that Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the National Police Agency, and the Japan Coast Guard have all worked with the association.

The Japanese Ambassador to China, Hideo Tarumi, served as the director of general affairs of the association's Taipei office, from April 2001 to March 2003, which gave him extensive contacts in the island of Taiwan. He has also worked at the Japanese Embassy in China and the Consulate General of Japan in Hong Kong.

Among other officials from the Japanese Foreign Ministry that worked with the association, there are many senior diplomats who served in important posts such as ambassadors, even if they do not have experience working on the mainland. It can be said that the association is a Taiwan-related organization "without official title" under the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Stronger official roles

As Japan and the island of Taiwan do not have diplomatic relations, the various affairs between the two sides have been made through the association. The Taiwan Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) authorities have had more frequent interactions with the association in recent years, which has rapidly heightened its status.

In April last year, former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and US President Joe Biden issued a joint statement mentioning the "importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait" during Suga's visit to the US. It was the first time since 1969 that leaders of Japan and the US mentioned the island of Taiwan in a joint statement.

The association's office in the island of Taiwan also raised the Japanese flag at its Taipei office last April, according to a tweet posted by Furuya Keiji, chairman of the Japan-ROC Diet Members' Consultative Council.

Following the controversial event, Cheng Yun-peng, DPP legislator, took to the social media to share the business card of Izumi Hiroyasu, chief representative of the association's Taipei office, which called himself "Japanese ambassador." Kindled by his behavior, DPP-backed media lauded it as a "new breakthrough" in the relationship between two sides. This argument, however, aroused criticism from many Taiwan residents who asked if "there is an official Japanese 'embassy' to the island of Taiwan. Playing such word game is just self-deception and waste of attention."

In fact, each time when there is outrage over Japan, residents of Taiwan often use the association as a punching bag. For example, in 2018, after a Japanese nationalist kicked the statue of a comfort woman, many people in the island doused paint on the association's Taipei office. In 2015, six Taiwanese comfort women demanded a heartfelt apology from Japan.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the normalization of China-Japan diplomatic ties, which is an important milestone in the development of bilateral relations. A recent statement released on its website reads that "2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the association [...] Japan and Taiwan [island] have formed an invincible friendship that made us proud. We value our mutual help and love." It went further by saying that "no matter how the world changes, Japan and Taiwan will firmly continue to look forward to the next 50 years in a confident manner."

US president Joe Biden met in May with Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio on his first trip to Asia as president. During their talks, Biden said that the US and Japan will "stand firmly" on the Taiwan question, which indicated Japan is prepared to hold the opportunity to play a "leading role" on it.

While Japanese politicians are pondering their next steps, concerns over how China will react never end, Takashi Okada, a commentator of Japanese media Kyodo News, told the Global Times.

"No matter whether the Japanese authorities plan to dispatch a civilian or a military official from the ministry of defense to the association, the move itself essentially reveals closer ties between Japan and the island of Taiwan," said Wang Jian, an expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, adding that "the two sides have been engaging in political maneuvers 'beneath the water' by adopting a simmering policy and they are moving to make this de facto embassy in Taiwan an official one."

Japan dares not to cross the red line

Shinzo Abe, former Prime Minister of Japan, said at a forum on Sunday that Japan, the US and other allies "must create a situation that pushes" the Chinese mainland to "give up seizing" the island of Taiwan "by force," while, he previously said that "any emergency over Taiwan would mean an emergency for Tokyo."

Drawing from the increasingly reckless remarks made by some Japanese politicians over the Taiwan question, Tokyo's policy toward the island has been intensified. Such political maneuvers as dispatching staff members from Japan's Ministry of Defense to work at the so-called the association's Taipei office or raising the status of the official station in the island, show that Japan is engaging in a more clear and specific strategy on the Taiwan question, said the expert.

The island of Taiwan was colonized by Japanese imperialism for nearly half century. However, some right-wing forces in Japan still glorify its military past. A number of separatist forces in the island have also been pro-Japan.

Takashi Okada told the Global Times that the DPP's move towards Japan and the US would mislead some Japanese politicians into thinking that a feeling of "colonial legitimization" was growing on the island. In fact, they have forgotten the fact that Japan is in a state of irreversible decline.

Experts say Japan's current tactics toward the island of Taiwan are mainly aimed at following and collaborating with the US' policy toward the island. Although there are twists and turns in bilateral ties, Japan will obviously not give up its relations with China.

"We need to maintain constructive relations [with China]. It is important for Japan and China to communicate," Kishida told a Budget Committee session in the House of Representatives on May 26.

It has been suggested that the elections of the House of Councillors in July will be a test for Kishida's cabinet. On the Taiwan question, Japan does not dare to cross the red line. Therefore, neither the association in the front, nor the Japanese government and the DPP authority in the back, will succeed in their attempt to create "two Chinas."