March 24, 2006


Japan-Taiwan Ties Blossom As Regional Rivalry Grows (Anthony Faiola, 3/24/06, Washington Post)

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.

When the media and pundits treat something like this in isolation from our burgeoning relationships with places like Mongolia, Indonesia and India and the allowances we make for Vlad Putin they do their readers a disservice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 24, 2006 8:58 AM

During the end stage of the Pacific campaign of WW II, the top Navy brass wanted to invade and liberate Taiwan, instead of the Philippines, to serve as a base for the invasion of Japan.

For various reasons, Gen. MacArthur championed the Philippine liberation, and FDR ultimately agreed to that plan.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 24, 2006 10:21 AM

When I was in Taiwan last year for a family funeral, the influence of Japanese pop culture -- pop music, TV shows, anime -- was enormous. My young relatives there told me that all the young people were all about Japan and being interested in Japan -- no residual war hostility at all (perhaps understandable because Taiwan, unlike mainland China, didn't really suffer from Japanese depradations). However, there is a large cadre of Chinese businesspeople (most but not all of mainland ancestry) who have a highly suspicious attachment to China and who do a lot of business with China and go there all the time. Hey, I wonder if Taiwan is in part the solution to Japan's demographic problem?

Posted by: Lisa at March 24, 2006 10:43 AM

Taiwan's biggest advantage is geography - China only needs to be stopped on the water.

Committing naval forces to defend the straits is a much lower risk than needing to commit land forces. This will allow Japan an opportunity to flex some muscles without the risk of too much strain.

Even if China somehow is able to land some troops, it will do them no good unless the naval lanes are still open for supply.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at March 24, 2006 12:31 PM

And they would have to control the air, as in Operation Merkur, the German invasion of Crete.

This would be the Axis of Good with the Axis of Those Who See It In Their Intrest to Do This.

Posted by: Mikey at March 24, 2006 6:25 PM


I was in Tapei a few years ago, and travelled south to see some of the beautiful beaches on the west coast (facing mainland China). They were heavily bunkered and garrisoned, and signs everywhere advised that photographing them was prohibited (don't want the ChiComs to have visual evidence of the landing site conditions, I suppose). Good luck to anyone trying to establish a beach head there.

Posted by: Fred Jacobsen (San Fran) at March 24, 2006 7:30 PM