Japan denies bowing to China pressure over Taiwan quake condolences message

Government official says removal of Taiwanese president’s name in online version of message was not due to Beijing protests over its inclusion

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 February, 2018, 12:08pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 February, 2018, 12:08pm

The Japanese government has denied that a protest from Beijing was behind a decision to drop the Taiwanese president’s name from an online version of a message sent by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week in response to a devastating earthquake.

Abe’s message of condolence and support was addressed to President Tsai Ing-wen when it was released to the press on Thursday, but the version subsequently uploaded to the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s website lacked her name.

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“It’s true that there was a protest by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, but … it’s not true that we altered [the message] in response to the Chinese protest,” chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference on Tuesday when asked about the omission.

“We changed it because we judged it would be appropriate to put up a message addressed to everyone in Taiwan,” the top government spokesman said.

Beijing has expressed displeasure over Japan addressing Taiwan officials by their official titles, which Beijing claims violates the one-China principle. Taiwan and mainland China have been governed separately since they split amid civil war in 1949.

Beijing has since regarded Taiwan as a renegade province awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.

Japan severed relations with Taiwan and established them with Beijing in 1972.

In both versions of the message, Abe noted the support received from the people of Taiwan during the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster in northeastern Japan and said Tokyo was ready to give whatever assistance is needed after the quake struck the city of Hualien late on February 6.

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In a poll released by a Taiwanese political research group on Monday, nearly 76 per cent of respondents said Japan was the country that had shown the most support for Taiwan since the quake. Mainland China came in second, selected by just 1.8 per cent of the respondents.

The magnitude 6.4 quake severely damaged four buildings and killed 17 people, including one person listed as missing and presumed dead.