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Japan's shift poses dilemma for Taiwan's Ma

Japan's shift poses dilemma for Taiwan's Ma

The consolidation of Japanese Prime Minister Kao Naoto as president of the centrist governing Democratic Party of Japan and his appointment of DPJ young star and noted "China hawk" Maehara Seiji as foreign minister poses a new diplomatic challenge for President Ma Ying-jeou and his rightist Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) government.
When the DPJ won a landslide victory in the Aug. 30, 2009 Diet lower house elections, many Taiwan pundits confidently predicted that the new DPJ administration under prime minister Hatoyama Yukio would be "anti-U.S." and "pro-China."
The first DPJ prime minister certainly ruffled feathers in Washington by breaking with the ranks of "normal" politicians by attempting to realize a campaign promise, namely the negotiation of the removal of the U.S. Marine Corp Air Station which is located in the middle of Ginowan City on the main island of Okinawa.
However, these parameters changed suddenly with the sudden collapse of the Hatoyama Cabinet in June in the wake of his failure to square this circle, his replacement by Kan and the latter's consolidation of power last week with a landslide victory over rival DPJ kingpin Ozawa Ichiro.
Kan's appointment of the 48-year old Maehara, who is an outspoken advocate of the primacy of the U.S.-Japan security alliance as the "axis of Japan's diplomacy" and a frequent visitor to Taiwan, is likely to combine with Washington's own higher profile in East and Southeast Asia to re-energize the Washington-Tokyo alliance.
Both Kan and Maehara will meet with their U.S. counterparts later this week while attending the beginning sessions of the United Nations General Assembly in a set of discussions that may set the tone for the U.S-Japan security dialogue in the coming three years.
Japan's new young foreign minister displayed his firmness Sunday by urging Beijing to "calmly" cope with the latest dispute over the contested Diaoyutai or Senkaku islands, triggered by the collision of a Chinese fishing vessel and a Japanese Coast Guard cutter.
Nevertheless, the PRC government suspended high-level exchanges with Tokyo and warned of "counter-measures" in the wake of the decision by a Japanese court to extend the detention for the Chinese fishing captain for continued judicial investigation for a second and final legally permitted 10 - day period Sunday.
In the short term, Maehara also is expected to work with Defense Minister Kitazawa Toshimi on the relocation of the Futenma base as agreed by the two governments in May, a goal whose achievement will require considerable finesse since the earmarked location, Nago City in northern Okinawa, has an anti-base mayor and, as of last week, an overwhelmingly anti-base majority in its city council.
Ironically, the PRC's bald assertion of its "territorial sovereignty" over virtually all the waters in the East Sea, the South China Sea and the Yellow Sea may make it easier for Tokyo to convince reluctant Okinawans that their own security is also at stake.
Indeed, the "Ryukyu Shimbun" reported yesterday that Japan's Ministry of defense plans to boost the number of Ground Self-defense Forces stationed on the main island of Okinawa from 2,000 to 20,000 by 2020 in part to cope with "special needs due to the increase in Chinese military activities" near to the Okinawan island chain.
Between Beijing and Washington
These trends are combining to pose a new and unescapable diplomatic dilemma for the Ma government, which has been mainly concerned mainly with stabilizing relations with Washington and Beijing and has relegated Japan in a distant third in its diplomatic priorities.
Although Ma has publically stressed the importance of the Japan-U.S. security treaty as "the bedrock of peace and stability in East Asia," there have also been much more friction between Taipei and Tokyo under his governance than during the Lee or Chen administrations, including several flaps over the disputed Diaoyutai or Senkaku islets.
The KMT government already displayed in May its lack of intention to help Japan deal with the PRC security threat by rejecting a request by Tokyo, made in the wake of an encounter between Japanese Naval SDF vessels and a flotilla of PRC People's Liberation Army Navy warships near Miyake Island, to extend Japan's Air Defense Identification Zone westward to ensure continued Japanese control over the airspace over Yonaguni Island.
Moreover, the attitude adopted by the Ma government in the current dispute between Japan and the PRC has been distinctly vague.
Taiwan's foreign ministry issued a sharply worded protest to Tokyo last week over its blocking of an excursion to the contested islets by a politically motivated Taiwan fishing boat and a resulting standoff with Taiwan coast guard craft, but failed to file a protest over the incursion by the Chinese fishing boat into Taiwan's claimed territorial waters with the PRC authorities.
A litmus test of the direction in which the Ma government truly leans will occur in December, when U.S. naval and air forces and Japan Self-defense Force units hold a joint exercise in the region of the Senkaku islets to test cooperation against a PRC incursion into the Okinawa chain.


Updated : 2021-10-19 05:09 GMT+08:00