17.04.2017 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Japan Joins the Games Around Taiwan

435341232Big-league politics, like everyday life, is characterized by the fact that focusing on minor events may confirm or cast doubt on customary opinions on some important processes, especially when these events are superimposed on other relevant events and facts.

One of such extremely important processes in modern geopolitics is the so-called ‘Taiwan Problem’. This immediately stands out when, for example, you read a report about an incident that happened in late March 2017 at Haneda Airport in Tokyo.

A young woman, a resident of Taiwan, who arrived in Japan for a one-year study (presumably at one of the Japanese universities), passed passport control using a document with a cover having a sticker that reads “Republic of Taiwan”.

The entire fact, which caused strong emotions in China (the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry sent a “strict request” to their Japanese colleagues), was noticed only after the lady had placed her picture with the passport on a popular Taiwanese online message board.

The initiator of the diplomatic turmoil between the two leading Asian powers explained that during the last two years, she had already passed five checks with the similar “sticker” on her passport at the Japanese airport “without any problems.”

Naturally, China had a number of questions addressed to both Taipei and, mainly, Tokyo. However, Beijing should not be very surprised by this event, as it is possible to find information on the Internet that “Republic of Taiwan” stickers on the covers of passports have long been observed at airports in other countries (USA, Singapore).

Therefore, along with some somewhat rhetorical questions (how many Taiwanese pass Haneda Airport with such “stickers”, who makes them, and whether the Taiwanese leadership is aware of it), the fundamental question arises of whether the case involving the above mentioned young woman is an element of the reaction of the “world community” to a (hypothetical) declaration of full sovereignty by Taiwan.

It should be recalled that although Taiwan was excluded from the UNO in 1971, it continues to designate itself as the “Republic of China” (the name of the country after the revolution at the beginning of the last century). At the same time, the majority of the countries in the world believe that China refers to only one country – the People’s Republic of China.

However, Taiwan has not disappeared from the geographical and political maps of the world. If only because 23 million people continue to live on the island who consider themselves an autonomous nation, which has created an advanced, dynamically developing economy that occupies the 20th place in the world.

Taiwan is one of the major trade and financial partners of China. However, Beijing refuses to grant sovereignty to the island in the belief that Taiwan will both politically and administratively, sooner or later “return to the single China.” The coordination with Beijing of the names of Taiwanese delegations invited to events is a constant problem for various international organizations (for example, sports organizations).

The problems only multiplied with the election of Tsai Ing-wen as President of Taiwan in 2016, as she leads the Democratic Progressive Party that advocates the full independence of the island.

Tsai Ing-wen is still making overseas visits (to the countries where she is accepted) as President of the “Republic of China”. China perceives such a self-designation of Taiwan as the inevitable (but temporary) side effects of the current format of relations with the “rebellious island.” Yet, prospects for a “Taiwan Republic” go beyond all the bounds of decency (agreed, probably, in “by default” format).

As for the Japanese side, admitting the possibility of negligence in the specified incident on the part of the passport control employees at the country’s border is hardly conceivable. Then, what was it with the citizen of the island, with which Japan broke off official relations in 1972? China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry has sent a similar question to Japan.

Japan has replied only with a short statement by the Japanese Embassy in Beijing that Japan respects “the single China principle”. At the same time, they have not commented on the entire incident at Haneda Airport.

The reticence of the official commentary on a rather loud incident likely indicates that Japan is apparently joining the US-Chinese games around the “Taiwan Problem.” This suggestion is proved by another incident (a more serious one) that happened concurrently with the first one.

It concerns a weekend spent by the Deputy Minister of the Interior of Japan Jiro Akama, on March 24-25 in Taiwan, where he participated in the opening of an exhibition of Japanese tourism. He was the highest-ranking official of Japan who visited Taiwan after the termination of the diplomatic relations. The negative reaction of the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry on this event was not long in coming.

It is worth noting the general positive attitude of the Taiwanese to Japan and, in particular, to the period of the “Japanese occupation” of the island (1895-1945). This is in violent contrast with the attitude of the Chinese and Koreans to the same period.

The former (pro-Chinese) President of Taiwan Ma Ying-jeou remarked quite nicely about the current Japan. Further development of Japan-Taiwan relations under Tsai Ing-wen can be predicted with confidence.

This fact is promoted by the sentiments of the Taiwanese. Opinion polls on the most respected country show that they rank Japan the first, not the USA (China is at the end of the list). This is particularly true for the younger generation of islanders.

Thus, the Japanese top official most likely enjoyed a sympathetic atmosphere at the end of March in Taiwan. The formation of this atmosphere has also been promoted by the further deterioration of the relations of the island with the PRC, which is acquiring the character of a military confrontation.

In mid-March, Taiwanese Ministry of National Defence introduced to the Parliament a “Quadrennial Defence Review”, which stated “the growing military threat” from China, particularly due to China’s recent air-naval exercise. The Review also states that “due to uncertainty in the foreign policy of the new US Administration and the inadequate power of Japan’s armed forces,” it is clear that “the country’s military development and Taiwan’s freedom and prosperity are one and the same thing.”

Needless to say the reaction of China to this document. A month ago, China strongly criticized Taiwan’s military training under the so-called “Decapitation Strike”.

Finally, it can be confidently asserted that during the upcoming talks between the leaders of the United States and China, various aspects of the re-escalating “Taiwan problem” (which Japan has joined now) will be at the top of the agenda.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.