Diaoyu Islands

DPP chairman risks Beijing backlash by meeting Ishihara

Su Tseng-chang, the Taiwanese party's chairman, may boost his standing with supporters but will anger Beijing by meeting Japanese nationalist

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 February, 2013, 5:48am

The chairman of Taiwan's main opposition party may win over hard-core pro-independence supporters on the island by meeting a right-wing Japanese activist at the centre of the Diaoyu Islands dispute today, but analysts say the move could backfire.

During a five-day trip to Japan, Su Tseng-chang, chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), will meet former Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, according to Taiwanese media.

The reports said the planned meeting had sparked a debate between local pro-Beijing and pro-independence politicians.

Professor Chang Ling-chen, a political scientist at National Taiwan University, said the meeting would enrage Beijing, as Ishihara was the initiator of a campaign in April 2012 to buy the disputed Diaoyu Islands, known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan.

The campaign resulted in the Japanese government stepping in to buy three islands from their Japanese owners, the Kurihara family, for about 2 billion yen (HK$170.43 million) in September, triggering condemnation from Beijing and a wave of anti-Japan protests across the mainland.

"Su dares to meet Ishihara because there are many people in Taiwan who miss the stable lives they had during the colonial era under the Japanese from 1895 to 1945.

"Many believe the Diaoyus belongs to Japan, not the Republic of China nor the People's Republic of China," Chang said.

Lin Baohua, a Taipei-based political commentator also known as Ling Feng, said many pro-independence Taiwanese were concerned by reports that mainland maritime surveillance vessels were near the Diaoyu Islands when the Japanese coastguard intercepted and fired their water cannons at a Taiwanese ship carrying activists last week.

There was growing anxiety in the pro-independence camp over whether President Ma Ying-jeou would work with Beijing to counter the Japanese military if an armed clash occurred in the disputed waters, he said.

Lin said Su wants to send a signal that the DPP would not side with Ma, in order to win votes from the pro-independence camp.

Su is eyeing the 2016 presidential election and, as the party's chairman, he needs to support DPP members running in the 2014 mayoral and city council elections.

Former DPP legislator Julian Kuo Cheng-liang said a meeting with Ishihara would be "politically risky" for Su. "Ishihara is a very controversial figure, and not just on Diaoyus issue," Kuo said. "I don't know why Su has chosen such a sensitive time … to visit him. Perhaps Su wants his meeting with Ishihara to attract international attention, in order to promote the DPP and himself internationally."

But if that were the case, said Chang, the political scientist, it would equate to "playing with fire".

He said the DPP should stick to domestic affairs, as international public affairs were not its "cup of tea".

Zhang Tongxin, who specialises in cross-strait affairs at Renmin University in Beijing, said a meeting between Su and Ishihara would seriously hurt the chances of bilateral relations being established between the DPP and the Communist Party.

"Both the mainland government and the public regard Ishihara as the monster," Zhang said.

"Ishihara ignited the Diaoyus dispute, which has jeopardised Sino-Japanese ties and stirred up anti-Japanese sentiment in our country."