By Lian Degui
The Japanese government has recently made constant moves on the Taiwan question. Not only were Taiwan region related contents written into the joint declarations of the Japan-US leaders’ meeting and of the Japan-EU summit, but several China-related topics, including the Taiwan Straits, were also involved in the joint statement of Japan and Australia’s “two plus two” meeting on June 9. Japan’s persistent and excessive interest in Taiwan region appears to reflect the country’s security concern, but it is actually driven by Japan’s deep-down, unspeakable colonial complex.
According to the series of political and legal arrangements after WWII, Japan was forced to give up its rule in Taiwan region and admit that the island is part of China, but its ambition for Taiwan region never died. When Kishi Nobusuke visited Taiwan as then Japan’s prime minister, he publicly supported Chiang Kai-shek in fighting back against the mainland. While he, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP), was known for his pro-Taiwanese stance, his little brother Satō Eisaku refused to admit Taiwan region as part of China before the China-Japan relations were normalized and was eventually abandoned by LDP’s mainstream force. Bilateral ties were not normalized until Kakuei Tanaka took office.
But Kishi Nobusuke’s supporters in LDP have continued to maintain ties with Taiwan region, sabotage the One China policy, and undermine China-Japan relations. In 2007, Taro Aso, a top official of LDP, visited Taiwan and met with Chen Shui-bian.
Now, Shinzo Abe’s little brother Nobuo Kishi is the key figure of LDP’s pro-Taiwanese forces. He is the defense minister of the Yoshihide Suga administration, and Katsunobu Kato, also a staunch supporter of Abe, is the Chief Cabinet Secretary, making the Suga administration actually the “Abe-Suga administration”. Yoshihide Suga isn’t pro-Taiwanese, but he became prime minister because of Abe’s support and is naturally influenced by Abe’s stance, so it’s hard for him to blaze a new foreign policy. Apart from the American factor, the Japanese pro-Taiwanese forces also play a significant role in Tokyo’s interference in China’s internal affairs. In February this year, the pro-Taiwanese forces set up an interagency Taiwan policy taskforce to plan future policies toward Taiwan.
The joint statement with the US and EU with the attempt to interfere in China’s internal affairs reveal Japan’s attempt to turn the Taiwan question into an international issue and use it as a way to curb China’s rise.
However， Japan’s national strength is nevertheless unable to sustain its pro-Taiwanese ambition. The latest statistics show that Japan registered negative economic growth as its GDP fell 1.3% in the first quarter. Its efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic have proved ineffective with the fourth surge underway, while vaccines are still in shortage, which leads to another dilemma – should it hold the Olympic Games as scheduled or not? At this point, Japan stands to suffer an enormous amount of losses, whatever its decision is.
Severe pandemic, economic decline, falling national strength, and escalating population aging – these realities make it impossible for Japan to interfere in its neighbor’s internal affairs. But the Japanese government sees China’s rise as a “threat”. It seems to believe that concocting an “Indo-Pacific strategy” and a so-called quadrilateral mechanism, and issuing some statements will block China’s way to reunification and curb its developing momentum. Tokyo should be aware that the EU is not on the same page with it regarding its interests in the Asia Pacific, and Japan’s attempt to get the West’s backing will turn out to be a pipe dream.
The US used to view Taiwan as an “unsinkable aircraft carrier”. At the same time, Japan still harbors smoldering colonial sentiments toward the island, so it’s no surprise that the two countries would act in collusion with each other over this issue. Past powers are over the hill, but they are still clinging to their old imperial and colonial dreams and straining themselves in the hopeless pursuit for global domination. But it’s a brave new world now!
The author is a professor with the School of Japanese Studies at the Shanghai International Studies University (SISU).