El compromís trilateral amb Taiwan?
Japan-Taiwan Ties Blossom As Regional Rivalry Grows
Tokyo, Wary of China, Tilts Toward Taipei
By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, March 24, 2006; A12
TAIPEI, Taiwan — Early rising seniors have gathered for years to exercise among the yellow lotus blossoms and fuchsia rhododendrons of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Park, the sprawling gardens in this island’s capital. Now local residents stretch their limbs in slow-moving tai chi routines amid a landscape distinctly altered by the addition of 450 cherry trees, a national symbol of Japan.
The trees, set in a park commemorating a leader who fought Japan during World War II, are among the first of more than 10,000 that Japanese and Taiwanese groups intend to plant across Taiwan. They are seen as emblems of the newly blooming relationship between the Pacific neighbors — a tie that only underscores the competition for regional influence between Japan and China, East Asia’s two major powers.
With Japan seeking to shed a half-century of pacifism and reassert itself in world affairs, and China acquiring vastly larger economic and military might, relations between the two are as tense as they have been at any time since World War II.
Nowhere is their contest more visible than here in Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province that must be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary. In recent months, Japan has made a series of unprecedented overtures toward Taiwan, which was a Japanese colony from 1895 to 1945. In Tokyo, leading politicians are increasingly adopting the view that Japan must come to the island’s aid in the event of Chinese aggression.
Many analysts say they believe Japan’s evolving interest in Taiwan could tilt the regional balance of power. The United States, which has diplomatic relations with mainland China, is nonetheless sworn by the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 to defend the island territory if it is attacked.
“The peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait and security of the Asian Pacific region are the common concerns for not only Taiwan, but also Japan and the United States,” Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian said during an interview last week. Therefore, he said, “Japan has a requirement and an obligation to come to the defense of Taiwan.”
Like many countries, Japan severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan in the 1970s in deference to Beijing’s “one-China” policy. But lately, Japan has been less particular about its rule of maintaining a careful distance. Twice in the past two months, Japan’s foreign minister, Taro Aso, has angered China by publicly referring to Taiwan as “a country.” Last year, the Tokyo government dropped visa requirements for visitors from Taiwan. And Japanese and U.S. leaders have for the first time jointly declared protection of the Taiwan Strait a “common strategic objective.”
In a less public gesture, Yoichi Nagano, formerly a general in the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force, the army, is serving as the first military attaché at Tokyo’s de facto embassy in Taipei, the Interchange Association. In an interview, Nagano said he conducts meetings with Taiwanese government and military figures and sends regular dispatches to Tokyo.
In 2004, a group of Japanese legislators formed a committee on Taiwanese security. This May, Tokyo is set to allow former president Lee Teng-hui, the Japanese-educated champion of Taiwanese democracy, to visit Japan for the second time in 18 months. So-called Track 2 meetings between Japanese and Taiwanese politicians, academics and retired military officials have intensified, according to officials in Taiwan and Japan.
These moves coincide with the rise to power in Japan of a new crop of hawks in the long- ruling Liberal Democratic Party headed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. During his five years in office, Koizumi has pushed aside rivals in the LDP who had long stressed the importance of maintaining a respectful distance from Taiwan.
The shift also comes as China’s military buildup is causing growing concern in Japan. The Beijing government boosted military spending by 15 percent this year. Tensions were particularly heightened after riots broke out across China last year against Japan’s bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council and the publication in Japan of textbooks allegedly whitewashing the country’s militarist past.
The Japanese view a potential Chinese takeover of Taiwan gravely. Such a move would give Beijing a perch for its missiles a mere 66 miles from Japanese territory while helping China to control the shipping lanes that carry the bulk of Middle East oil coming to Japan.
Japan has countered with uncharacteristic assertiveness. In November 2004, Japanese warships chased a Chinese submarine that had entered Japanese waters near Taiwan in what was widely seen as a test of Japan’s resolve in defending the strategically sensitive zone.
Koizumi’s government is also investing millions of dollars in a joint missile defense system with the United States. Some analysts say Taiwan could eventually become part of the system, turning it into a three-way defense against Chinese missiles.
Japan’s pacifist constitution limits the country’s ability to deploy its military abroad. But political leaders in both Japan and Taiwan are embracing a broad interpretation of a 1999 law allowing Japan to respond to threats in nearby waters. This, they say, could provide a legal basis for Japan to join the United States in responding to Chinese aggression.
Most of these leaders agree that Japan would be able to contribute rear-guard refueling, transportation and medical services and perhaps conduct search-and-rescue missions inside Taiwan. If Japanese ships or personnel providing such assistance were attacked, “it would mean war,” said Tokuichiro Tamazawa, a leading LDP lawmaker long involved in the Taiwan issue.
Tadashi Ikeda, chief representative of the Interchange Association, Japan’s unofficial embassy in Taipei, said Tokyo remained strongly in favor of a peaceful solution to the Taiwan issue. But, he added, “there has always been a question of what Japan would do” in the event of Chinese aggression. “Now the Taiwanese can say that both the U.S. and Japan are on their side.”
U.S. officials have cautiously welcomed the more assertive Japanese stance. But they have also expressed concern that too sudden a shift could embolden Chen, Taiwan’s president, to take steps toward formal independence that could ignite a cross-strait conflict.
China’s relations with Japan have nose-dived since Koizumi took office and promptly began paying annual visits to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan’s 2.5 million military dead, including World War II criminals. Japan and China have also become embroiled in disputes over territorial claims and oil and gas drilling rights in the East China Sea.
Chen said in the interview last week that relations between Japan and Taiwan were at their closest since the two countries’ 1972 diplomatic break. Chen said he hoped it would lead to a three-way “quasi-military alliance” among the United States, Japan and Taiwan.
In contrast with the Chinese and Koreans both North and South, many Taiwanese view the years of Japanese colonial rule in sympathetic terms. Older Taiwanese often delight in speaking Japanese, the official language of their youth. Imperial-era structures, including the elegant Presidential Office Building that was once the seat of the Japanese governor, have been painstakingly preserved and declared national treasures.
Japan and Taiwan are exchanging a record 2.3 million tourists each year, and Japan remains Taiwan’s largest trading partner. Large Japanese department stores and fast-food chains dominate the Taipei cityscape. (però aquí Xina guanya eh…)
“The Japanese built universities, roads and other infrastructure. They educated us, they turned us into a more modern society,” said Hwang Kuan-hu, a national policy adviser to Chen. “We welcome Japan becoming more involved again with Taiwan.”
Not everyone in Taiwan shares that sentiment, particularly members of the opposition Nationalist Party, which favors closer ties with China. Earlier this year, the party took offense when Japanese and Taiwanese groups jointly erected a monument in a Taipei suburb honoring thousands of aboriginal Taiwanese who died fighting for the Japanese Imperial Army in Southeast Asia. A few weeks later, most of the monument was ordered dismantled by local Nationalist Party officials.
Ma Ying-jeou, the Nationalist Party chief who opinion polls indicate is the favorite to win Taiwan’s 2008 presidential election, described the incident as a good example of the emotions that could be unleashed if the embrace of Japan goes too far.
Taiwanese who revel in the Japanese colonial years “are still brainwashed,” Ma said. “It was not a just war, and Taiwan could have done better” without the citizens who now recall that period with fondness.
Special correspondent Sachiko Sakamaki in Tokyo contributed to this report.