Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 07:44 | SYDNEY
Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 07:44 | SYDNEY

Taiwan: Closer to China, further from Japan


Malcolm Cook

3 July 2008 16:03

The new Ma Ying-jeou government in Taiwan has been successful, so far, in moving China and Taiwan closer together and reaffirming Taiwan’s Chinese nature. This after his opposition predecessor, Chen Shui-bian, worked for two terms to push the two sides of the Taiwan strait further apart and to redefine Taiwan as a separate and autonomous (cultural, political and even ethnic) entity from China. As Chen and the DPP ‘moved’ Taiwan away from China, Taiwan moved closer to Japan as ties between the two improved noticeably, especially under prime ministers Koizumi and Abe. Taiwan rarely criticized Japan and I cannot remember when they did it in lockstep with China.

Now it appears that Taiwan may be finding common cause with Beijing and moving further away from Japan. On 10 June, a Taiwanese fishing vessel sank after hitting a Japanese coastguard ship in the disputed waters around the Senkaku/Tiaoyu islands. This triggered public official criticisms of Japan from China and Taiwan, demands for an apology (successful in the case of Taiwan) from Beijing and Taipei and the official reaffirmation of China’s and Taiwan’s sovereign claims. Last Monday, 30 June, a plane containing five Japanese parliamentarians flew over the islands and triggered even more echoing official demarches from both China and Taiwan.

Beijing and Taipei have found common cause in criticising Japan over the disputed islands without, conveniently, acknowledging the problems inherent with both China and Taiwan claiming these islands as the true representatives of China. When Chen Shui-bian was in office, Taipei’s and Beijing’s claims to the islands were used by Chen to emphasise Taiwan’s sovereign autonomy from China. Now it seems that the Ma government is using it, spurred by events, to highlight the common links and history of China and Taiwan. In the 1970s, Ma himself vowed to go to war with Japan over the islands if necessary.