Taiwan and Japan are playing a dangerous game
The region needs stability for growth and economic development, not raised tensions
The uncertainties created by Donald Trump’s US presidency were bound to prompt Asian governments to seek economic, political and diplomatic insurance. Taiwan and Japan are doing that by eyeing a rethink of relations, looking for ways of improving ties should alliances with the United States falter. But playing such a game is dangerous given the geopolitical realities of the region. Any such moves would affect stability, a fact Beijing has understandably warned about each time a line is threatened or crossed.
There have been a number of such moves this year, the latest being the highest-level visit to Taiwan by a Japanese official since diplomatic recognition of China was switched from Taipei to Beijing in 1972. Deputy minister of internal affairs and communications Jiro Akama was in the island’s capital for a two-day tourism fair organised by the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association, which represents Japanese interests on the island. The association changed its name from the Interchange Association at the start of the year, a decision denounced by the foreign ministry in Beijing as an attempt to create “two Chinas or one China, one Taiwan”. Taipei has since changed the name of its office in Japan from the Association of East Asian Relations to the Association of Taiwan-Japan Relations.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson should have calmed concerns during his recent trip to the region. But as smoothly as the visit went, Trump’s position towards East Asia has still not been properly laid out. The president has given mixed signals, casting doubts on trade and, additionally for Japan, defence support. A planned summit with President Xi Jinping (習近平 ) next month in Florida should ideally eliminate the question marks for China, but a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe failed to make plain the American position on a number of issues and a controversial phone call with Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen highlighted Trump’s unpredictability.
Tsai’s refusal to acknowledge the 1992 consensus with Beijing and Abe’s failure to make peace with China by repeatedly declining to apologise for imperial Japan’s wartime aggression have raised regional tensions. The fruits so far of Abe’s efforts to create a fully fledged military despite his country’s pacifist constitution will be evident in May when the nation’s largest warship is expected to sail through the contested waters of the South China Sea on its way to Southeast Asian port calls and exercises in the Indian Ocean with naval vessels from the US and India.
The region needs stability for growth and economic development. Taiwan’s pushing for closer ties with Japan and Japanese meddling in the island’s affairs will only raise tensions.