Taiwan under Tsai Ing-wen led Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has become a focal point of regional political concern. Based on Taiwan’s political status, the shift in the political apparatus holds significant ramifications for the Asia-Pacific regional architecture. The development of pro-independence forces in Taiwan, in particular, constitutes a fundamental challenge to the peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, of which China and Japan are the key actors.
With DPP at power in Taiwan, it is prospected that the Beijing-Taipei relations will undergo systemic changes given the clash of sovereignty interests. This critical change also calls for uncertainties in China-Japan relations.
At the very core, the question of Taiwan involves the political foundation of China-Japan relations. With the first Sino-Japanese war, Taiwan was ceded by the Qing dynasty to Japan in 1895 under the Treaty of Shimonoseki. Conversely, in 1945 with the end of World War II and Japan’s surrender, Taiwan was returned to the Republic of China (ROC) under the Cairo Proclamations and Potsdam Proclamations. With the foundation of Communist led People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, Taiwan under ROC has become a bone of contention in Cross-Strait relations. Given these successive shifts in Taiwan’s sovereignty, in the 1972 normalization, PRC and Japan agreed that “China has no objection to people-to-people contacts between Japan and Taiwan. However, China firmly opposes any forms of official contacts between Japan and Taiwan, let alone any activities aiming at creating “two Chinas” or “one China, one Taiwan”. This understanding between China and Japan over Taiwan has undergone changes with the worsening of China-Japan relations.
In recent years, Taipei-Tokyo relations have strengthened. First, socially, both Taiwan and Japan maintain close and friendly ties. People in both countries hold favorable opinion towards each other. Adding to the bonhomie Taiwan’s economic aid to Japan, more than any other country, after the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, further reinforced the trust and confidence in the bilateral relations.
Secondly, economically, Taiwan and Japan have become important economic partners based on mutual complementarity and win-win relationship. For Taiwan, Japan is the second largest trading partner, while for Japan, Taiwan is the fifth largest trading partner.
Thirdly, strategically, both sides have demonstrated cooperative efforts on contentious issues, as in April 2013 when the Taiwan-Japan Fisheries Agreement was signed. It allowed ROC fishing vessels to operate within the designated zone in the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku islands without interference by Japanese government vessels.
Lastly, geopolitically, both share a commitment to defending international law, democratic systems, and the U.S.-led alliance network in the Asia-Pacific.
In this respect, with DPP at power, Taiwan-Japan relations will significantly impact China-Japan relations. As in recent years, frictions between China and Japan over Taiwan have increased given the worsening of the relations over historical issues and Diaoyu/Senkaku islands dispute. The causal factors that make Taiwan an irritant in the present China-Japan dynamics are the increase in pro-Taiwan forces in Japan, which is compounded with greater economic ties between Taipei and Tokyo. With DPP at power, Taipei-Tokyo equation is bound to get stronger, if not weak. This strategic bond calls for significant ramifications on Beijing’s ‘One-China’ principle, which is sensitive to Taiwan’s external relationships. Thereby, making Taiwan a potent factor of friction between China and Japan.
Taiwan’s stronger leaning towards Japan under DPP’s new leadership is not a surprise. In her speech on the 29th Anniversary of DPP on September 22, 2015, Tsai stated: “One of our priorities is to strengthen our partnerships with the United States, Japan, and other like-minded democracies from around the world. Further stated that, “it is in our national interest to have strong and healthy relationships here by expanding our economic and cultural ties, and engage in dialogue on regional security and economic integration, such as the TPP”.
These remarks clarify what DPP’s strategic move is likely to be in carving Taiwan’s foreign relations. Taiwan under DPP will enact in creating its own international space, independent of PRC’s ‘One China’ policy. In this move, Taiwan’s greater bend towards Japan is the most likely phenomenon in order to capitalize on its goal for Taiwan independence. With the change in strategic calculus, the Taiwan factor will act as a catalyst in de-stabilizing China-Japan relations.
Amrita Jash is Editor-in-Chief at IndraStra Global, New York. She is currently a Doctoral Candidate at the Centre for East Asian Studies (Chinese Division), School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi-India. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or @amritajash
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