Taipei looks to Tokyo to hedge Trump fears

Island seeks warmer Japanese embrace as concerns rise over possibility US president will use Taiwan as bargaining chip

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 March, 2017, 10:58pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 March, 2017, 7:53am

Taiwan is aiming to forge stronger links with Japan to bolster security as uncertainties mount in relations between Taipei, Washington and Beijing.

The direction was signalled on Monday when Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen told a group of ethnic Taiwanese from Japan that the island’s relations with Tokyo would remain a top priority for her government.

“Since the [Tsai] government took office, it has listed developing relations with Japan as high on its diplomatic agenda,” Tsai said.

Taiwan to change name of body handling ties with Japan

In a statement, the president said the economies of Taiwan and Japan were complementary and further cooperation between the two sides was needed.

In a separate meeting with a delegation led by Keisuke Suzuki, head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan’s youth division, Tsai thanked the government of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for its positive attitude towards Taiwan.

Taipei and Tokyo have expanded various ties – from cultural to sporting and economic exchanges. This has accelerated since US President Donald Trump began pushing for allies like Japan to pay their own security costs, while ­rejecting Abe’s call for the United States to ­remain in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

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In January, despite protests from Beijing, which sees Taiwan as a its territory subject to eventual unification, Japan changed the name of its de facto embassy in Taiwan from the Interchange Association, Japan, to the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association.

Taiwanese cabinet spokesman Hsu Kuo-yung said yesterday that the cabinet had approved a similar rebadging of its agency in Japan from the Association of East Asian Relations to the Association of Taiwan-Japan Relations.

Analysts said Taipei’s push to expand ties with Tokyo was being driven by concerns that Trump would use Taiwan as a concession in dealing with Beijing.

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Yen Chen-shen, research fellow at National Chengchi University’s Institute of International Relations said Tsai was aware of the mainland’s growing impatience towards her refusal to accept the 1992 consensus, an understanding that there is only one China but each side has its understanding of what that is.

“But at the same time she is unable to know for sure whether Taiwan will become Trump’s bargaining chip, especially during the upcoming meeting between him and mainland leader Xi Jinping,” Yen said.

Yen said it was important to know if Taiwan could make any real diplomatic advances such an upgrade to its recognition by Japan.

“It remains to be seen if Japan would really support Taiwan at the expense of the mainland,” he said.