Publication: China Brief Volume: 2 Issue: 1

By Li Thian-hok

Dear Prime Minister Koizumi:

On Christmas Day, Japan’s Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka told a press conference: “I think the Chinese people have the wisdom of taking time concerning political issues. Hong Kong was returned to China and the situation was resolved quietly, and I hope the Taiwan issue will be handled in a similar manner. Japan as a neighboring country and the rest of the world should make efforts so that the issue will be resolved peacefully.”

Tanaka’s remarks betray her ignorance about many aspects of the Taiwan issue. First, only 13 percent of the 23 million people on Taiwan consider themselves strictly as Chinese. A great majority of the Taiwanese have clearly rejected unification with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) under the Hong Kong model of “one country, two systems.” Taiwan, like Japan, is a free market democracy. The Taiwanese people have struggled long and hard against the Kuomintang dictatorship with blood and tears to win their freedom. They will not peacefully give up their freedom and willingly subject themselves to Beijing’s repressive rule.

Second, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda reaffirmed that Japan’s basic position concerning Taiwan remains unchanged:

“There is a principle on how our country deals with this matter. As in the (1972) Japan-China joint communique, China asserts that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, and Japan fully understands and respects this stance.”

Tokyo’s position is basically the same as Washington’s, which states that the United States “acknowledges” China’s claim. Neither the United States nor Japan has “recognized” China’s stance. Both countries have taken note of China’s claim without formally accepting it.

As Japan’s Foreign Minister Tanaka should have been aware of these nuances of diplomatic language. Her lack of diplomatic experience and sophistication means she is a liability for your administration.

Mr. Taku Yamasaki, secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party was right in criticizing Tanaka’s comments as overstepping Tokyo’s policy of not taking sides on differences between Beijing and Taipei. “As the foreign minister, she should refrain from making statements that may be interpreted as interfering in domestic affairs, which would exceed the government’s policy,” Yamasaki told the Nihon Keizai financial daily.

Third, Tanaka’s remarks work against Japan’s strategic and security interests. Each day hundreds of merchant ships and oil tankers pass through the sea lanes on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. The sea lanes and the airspace around Taiwan are the lifelines of Japan and South Korea. If Taiwan were to fall into PRC hands, China will be in a position to choke off Japan’s lifelines. Unless Japan wants to become a protectorate of China, offering its financial and technological resources upon demand to the new hegemon of Asia, Taiwan’s security is ultimately Japan’s security as well. Can a person who fails to grasp such an elementary strategic reality be qualified to serve as Japan’s foreign minister?

Finally, as you said so yourself, the Japan-U.S. security alliance is the linchpin of peace and security for East Asia. The Bush administration understands the strategic importance of Taiwan to both Japan and the U.S. That is why President Bush has declared that the U.S. will help defend Taiwan, “whatever it takes.” It is in America’s interest to preserve the status quo in the Taiwan Strait, at least until the PRC evolves into a peaceful democracy. U.S. policy is peaceful resolution, not peaceful unification. It seems clear Tanaka has not cleared her statements beforehand either with you, Japan’s Prime Minister, or with the U.S. State Department or the White House. The United States has heavy responsibilities: to guarantee the security of East Asia while fighting a war against terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The United States does not need a Japanese Foreign Minister declaring a brand new policy which parrots Beijing’s position and which is diametrically opposed to U.S. interests at such a critical time. Tanaka’s careless remarks have undermined U.S. confidence in Japan as a reliable ally.

Mr. Prime Minister, we respectfully request that you formally reprimand Foreign Minister Tanaka for her wrongful remarks and also take the opportunity to re-emphasize Japan’s neutrality in the dispute between democratic Taiwan and Communist China.

With best wishes for a joyous and prosperous New Year to you and to Japan.

Respectfully yours,