As the integrity of the Kuomintang continues to remain crumbled and divided over who should stand for candidacy in the upcoming presidential election on January 16, Democratic Progressive Party’s Tsai Ing-wen has embarked on a four-day journey to Japan Tuesday aimed at strengthening the exchange between Taiwan and Japan.
The visit shows that Tsai and the DPP value their friendship with Japan given that the latter is an important neighbor with close trade and cultural relations, which is something that President Ma Ying-jeou has chosen to put in the backseat (as opposed to the Chen Shui-bian era) as he prefers to seek warmth under China’s armpits.
Meanwhile, as with the Communist Party’s usual demeanor, Beijing didn’t go quietly by lashing out their anger towards Tsai’s visit and saber-rattling to Japan that it should not give anyone a platform to promote Taiwan independence views.
“We are extremely concerned about her [Tsai] activities in Japan and resolutely opposed to such visit,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said last week, adding that it demands the Japanese side to strictly abide by the one-China principle, and not provide space or any excuse for anybody to disseminate Taiwan independence.
Tsai’s visit comes soon after Japan passed a set of security bills last month allowing its troops to fight abroad for the first time since the end of World War II. China is already calling the bills a threat to regional peace, fearing Japan’s greater military presence could increase the risk of armed clashes in the South China Sea.
According to some analysts, Beijing’s real fear is Taiwan and Japan getting too close together.
Observers also believe Beijing is worried that Japan’s new security bills would allow them to assist the United States if Uncle Sam chooses to defend Taiwan based on the Taiwan Relations Act. This in turn would allow Japan to indirectly help Taiwan in response to a U.S. request.
Tsai has repeatedly made efforts to reassure Beijing and Washington about her intentions by saying she wants to preserve the current status quo, remarks that appear to associate her with the principles of Ma’s policies.
But Beijing isn’t swallowing her words. Chinese President Xi Jinping has warned publicly that cross-strait ties would be shaken if Taiwan does not accept the “political foundation” of cross-Strait relations, particularly the principle of One China and the idea that both the Chinese mainland and Taiwan are part of that China.
Such reaction by the Chinese is both epic to watch and a yawning matter. It has become so blasé that no one gives a hoot anymore, as majority of the public have come to see this as a normal routine carried out by Beijing, let alone the politicians as they go about their day-to-day business.
But rhetoric and assumptions aside, Tsai should value this opportunity to extend her pragmatism towards Japan, as she did during her trip to the United States back in June. The DPP presidential contender can also assure the Japanese that she intends to keep the status quo on cross-strait relations, and that she would not induce peer pressure on the Japanese by antagonizing Beijing. While in Japan, Tsai could also discuss efforts to strengthen trade with the country, which as of yet is Taiwan’s fourth largest export market.
But on the home front, sour grapes from the pan-Blue camp have panned Tsai’s trip to Japan, saying it would do more harm than good, and that her courting with the Japanese would tip the balance of trade between big brother and little sister.
While most people in Taiwan understand that the island’s prosperity requires playing in the Chinese economy, the ultimate question is how to protect the island against downside risks, such as the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA). The DPP and Tsai have gained an advantage in that debate by arguing that the Ma administration was not sufficiently transparent.
There is no doubt that Tsai’s visit to Japan will be closely watched by Beijing. According to some observers, whoever Tsai meets in the next four days and whatever she says will be viewed as a hint of her position towards China, which could determine the future of cross strait relations if she becomes the Taiwan’s leader next year.