Japan’s “Taiwan card”: a “new normal” in relations with China

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Ninety years ago today, on September 18, 1931, Japanese troops bombed Shenyang in northeast China under false pretext, marking the official start of its 14-year invasion of China.

From Shenyang to Shenzhen and Nanjing to Beijing, cities across China commemorated the 90th anniversary of the September 18 incident on Saturday with air raid sirens, a day for the country to collectively revisit this chapter of history. , remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice and review the current state of Sino-Japanese relations.

And one problem has emerged as a flashpoint between China and Japan: Taiwan. In a seemingly “new normal”, Tokyo has steadfastly extolled the Taiwan question in recent months, barely hiding its intention to provoke Beijing, which sees the island as a purely domestic problem.

The analysis shows that behind the new approach lies the domestic policy of Japan and its alignment with the inflationary threat of the US administration in China.

Japan plays “little tricks” on Taiwan

In clear departure from previous practice, the Japanese government has loudly proclaimed its so-called “concerns” regarding the Taiwan region in China.

In April, Tokyo and Washington included a direct reference to Taiwan in a joint statement following Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s first face-to-face talks with US President Joe Biden since Biden took office.

It was the first such mention since 1969 and also one of Japan’s biggest challenges to China since 1972, when diplomatic relations were normalized with Tokyo’s recognition of the one-China policy.

Then, in another first, Japan asserted in July in its annual defense white paper that stability in the Taiwan Strait, under “increasing military pressure” from the Chinese mainland, is “more important than never “.

And at the end of August, Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the Taiwan-region Progressive Democratic Party (DPP) held their first-ever 2 + 2 “Security Dialogue”.

Although under the pretext of party-to-party exchange, the dialogue initiated by the Japanese has been widely interpreted as de facto official.

Sino-Japanese relations: where are we?

Japan’s repeated flirtation with the Taiwan question has pushed relations with China to their lowest level since 2012, when the Japanese government announced the “nationalization” of the Diaoyu Islands, triggering strong protests from China and plunging ties into a “cold winter”.

In response, China standardized its patrols in the waters off the Diaoyu Islands and established an air defense identification zone over the East China Sea.

Bilateral relations improved and gradually got back on track in 2018, when Chinese Premier Li Keqiang paid an official visit to Japan, the first by a Chinese premier in eight years, and then Japanese Premier Shinzo. Abe visited China.

“The healthy, steady and long-term development of Sino-Japanese relations serves the fundamental interests of the peoples of both countries and represents the common expectations of the international community,” Chinese President Xi Jinping told Abe in Beijing.

Another sign of improving relations, Xi had accepted an invitation to pay a state visit to Japan in April 2020, but it was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But now, with Tokyo’s proactive measures regarding the Taiwan region, one of China’s core interests, Beijing has taken note and responded accordingly.

Japan’s domestic policy

When he became Prime Minister a year ago, Suga’s top priority was to bring the pandemic under control, to host the postponed Tokyo Olympics and to revive the struggling economy.

However, despite the Tokyo Olympics, a majority of Japanese companies wanted Suga, citing frustrations over his lack of leadership in handling COVID-19, according to an August Reuters poll.

(Left to right) Liberal Democratic Party presidential candidates Taro Kono, Fumio Kishida, Sanae Takaichi and Seiko Noda pose during a press conference in Tokyo, Japan, September 17, 2021. / CFP

(Left to right) Liberal Democratic Party presidential candidates Taro Kono, Fumio Kishida, Sanae Takaichi and Seiko Noda pose during a press conference in Tokyo, Japan, September 17, 2021. / CFP

Now, with Suga quitting the upcoming LDP leadership election and effectively relinquishing the post of prime minister, candidates for the post are trying to outdo themselves in China to win the favor of voters.

Fumio Kishida, a moderate who served as foreign minister, said it was necessary to carefully monitor China, although he softened his stance by acknowledging the importance of bilateral trade ties.

Sanae Takaichi, a former communications minister, said if she wins, she will continue to visit the infamous Yasukuni Shrine, which honors 14 Class A war criminals convicted during World War II and is viewed by China and China. other countries in the region as a symbol of the militarization of Japan. pass.

Immunization chief Taro Kono, who so far tops opinion polls, said Japan would be ready to join the US-led “Five Eyes” alliance and become a ” sixth eye “in July 2020 when he was Minister of Defense.

American factor: a “trap within a trap”

Japan’s high-profile provocation also coincided with Biden’s “long-term strategic competition” with China.

Foreign Policy magazine commented that the US administration’s basic foreign policy is to confront China and warned that Washington’s preoccupation with “the imaginary enemy” is much riskier than it appears to realize.

Japan’s position has changed as it believes the margin for cooperation between China and the United States has narrowed, Da Zhigang, director of the Northeast Asia Research Institute of the United States, told the Global Times. Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences.

A strategic report on Sino-Japanese relations published by the Institute for International Studies at Fudan University in February 2021 calls the American factor in Sino-Japanese relations a “trap” within the “Thucydides trap” between established power and rising power.

The annual report, written by Chinese and Japanese academics, suggests that the two countries are working to avoid falling into the trap and promote stable development of the relationship.

However, with the upcoming elections and Japan’s willingness to fall into the “trap,” the “new normal” that Japan is making the Chinese region of Taiwan a problem could last for some time.

(Cover: People cross a street in Tokyo, Japan, July 30, 2021. / CFP)


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