United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
December 27, 2016
Executive Summary: A Japanese academic recently commented on Taiwan-Japan relations and the ban on food imports from Japan's nuclear disaster areas. He said "Japan is too strong and Taiwan is too eager to lift the ban on food products from the Fukushima nuclear disaster areas”. This is the best description yet of current Taiwan-Japan relations. Can Japan forgo its status as the “superior” in the relationship? Will it listen to public opinion on Taiwan? Can the DPP review the relationship between Taiwan and Japan in a pragmatic manner? Must it insist on pursuing a united front with Japan against Mainland China? Unless the DPP can cease its unilateral desire to pander to Japan in order to oppose Mainland China, it will continue to sacrifice ROC national interests.
Full Text Below:
Public hearings were recently convened on food imports from nuclear disaster areas in Japan. Public protests have erupted one after another, and are unlikely to end any time soon. Meanwhile the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has confirmed that the Japanese government is angry because Taiwan continues to limit food imports from nuclear disaster areas in Japan. Therefore Japan has suspended the "Taiwan-Japan Economic Partnership Committee", and ended "Taiwan-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement" (EPA) negotiations. Earlier rumors that the government sought to allow food imports from nuclear disaster areas in Japan, in exchange for Japan signing the EPA, were apparently well founded.
Actually this is not the first time Taiwan and Japan have clashed since Tsai Ing-wen came to power. The "Taiwan-Japan Cooperation Dialogue on Ocean Affairs" was originally scheduled for late July. It was postponed to late October over the South China Sea “arbitration” case. When it convened in late October, observers wondered whether the government intended to trade our territorial sovereignty for mere fishing privileges in Cong Zhi Niao Reef, aka “Okinotoroshima”. The meeting was hastily concluded, and each side provided its own media spin. Taiwan-Japan negotiations have repeatedly run aground. One can only wonder how the DPP must feel, having long professed its undying friendship for Japan.
Think back to Tsai Ing-wen's visit to Japan last July. The Japanese had high expectations from the DPP as ruling party. Abe's younger brother, Shinohiko, accompanied Tsai Ing-wen on a visit to Abe's hometown, to highlight friendship between the DPP and Japan. The Japanese government deliberately arranged an “unexpected meeting” between Tsai and Abe in a restaurant penthouse, to show the close alliance between the two sides. Alas, Japan's lofty expectations have been tempered by harsh political realities, and the tacit understanding between the two sides has yet to withstand the test of public opinion on Taiwan.
The October "Taiwan-Japan Conference on Ocean Affairs Cooperation Dialogue" has concluded with nothing to show. Many in the DPP assume the reason was KMT objections and anti-Japanese sentiment. In fact, most people on Taiwan consider Cong Zhi Niao Reef sovereignty and fishing rights to be inseparable. They refuse to trade territorial sovereignty for mere fishing privileges. That is clearly how the public feels. The ruling DPP has accused the KMT of irrational obstructionism over food imports from Japan's nuclear disaster areas. In fact the public vehemently opposes the importation of food products from Japan's nuclear disaster areas. The KMT holds a minority of the seats in the legislature. It is hardly in a position to manipulate public opinion.
This shows that current problems in Taiwan-Japan relations are not due to intense opposition from the KMT. Nor are they due to close relations between the Taiwan and Japanese governments, but rather the long-standing, unequal relationship between Taiwan and Japan. The public on Taiwan is angry at the Tsai government for blindly kowtowing to Japan. It has lashed out in response. Current problems in Taiwan-Japan relations are the result of a disconnect between the framework of the relationship and the reality.
First consider the framework of the unequal relationship between Taiwan and Japan. The DPP and the Japanese government may share anti-China sentiments. But the relationship between the DPP and Japan has long been an unequal one. The Japanese government has always taken its national interests as its starting point. It has always presumed to be Taiwan's superior and dictated Taiwan's role. The DPP has used Japan as a weapon against Mainland China. But it has utterly neglected Taiwan's own interests. When Taiwan seeks more from Japan than Japan seeks from Taiwan, the DPP's wishful thinking becomes apparent. The DPP ignores Japan's pragmatism. Japan insists that Taiwan must first lift its ban on food imports from the Fukushima nuclear disaster area. Only then will Japan consent to resume negotiations over the Taiwan-Japan economic and trade agreement. This is why.
Second, the Taiwan government and the Japanese government have both ignored public opinion on Taiwan. Japan has relied too much on DPP government authority, and ignored the volatility of public opinion on Taiwan. Public support for Tsai Ing-wen has plummeted, avalanche like, in three short months. This has made it difficult, if not impossible for Tsai Ing-wen to lift the ban on food imports from Japan's nuclear disaster areas.
Third, the DPP has underestimated the intensity of domestic public opinion against food imports from Japan's nuclear disaster areas. In a panic, the Tsai government convened 10 public hearings over three short days, in the hope that it could ram the bill through the legislature. This heavy handed, top down approach provoked a powerful backlash, increasing opposition. During the "Taiwan-Japan Economic and Trade Conference", the Chairman of the Japan Association for the Promotion of International Trade and Economic Cooperation (GIEF) Yasuo Fukuoka, violated a tacit agreement to avoid criticizing Taiwan. He was impatient with the Tsai government's tardy handling of the situation. In the process he revealed Japan's political arrogance.
A Japanese academic recently commented on Taiwan-Japan relations and the ban on food imports from Japan's nuclear disaster areas. He said "Japan is too strong and Taiwan is too eager to lift the ban on food products from the Fukushima nuclear disaster areas”. This is the best description yet of current Taiwan-Japan relations. Can Japan forgo its status as the “superior” in the relationship? Will it listen to public opinion on Taiwan? Can the DPP review the relationship between Taiwan and Japan in a pragmatic manner? Must it insist on pursuing a united front with Japan against Mainland China? Unless the DPP can cease its unilateral desire to pander to Japan in order to oppose Mainland China, it will continue to sacrifice ROC national interests.