China’s rise is stirring its neighbors into action, and watching Japan’s foreign policy moves in Asia is especially useful if you want to understand what’s going on in the region. Besides developing a closer relationship with far-away India, Japan is also cozying up to its island neighbor Taiwan. Like Japan, Taiwan is an off-shore trading nation dependent on a free flow of goods over the ocean, and an ally of the U.S. eager to prevent China from dominating the region. Like India, Taiwan did not experience the full horrors of Japanese occupation, and in some ways benefited from Japanese investment, making closer Japanese-Taiwanese relations an obvious opportunity for Tokyo. And Taiwan seems eager to reciprocate. The Japan Times:
Japanese investment in Taiwan exceeded $444 million last year, the highest level since [Preisdent] Ma [Ying-jeou] first took office in 2008, and from this January to September rose to its highest point in the past five years.
With trade prospering, Tokyo and Taipei signed an investment agreement in September last year allowing for greater freedom of bilateral economic exchanges — an important step closer to inking a free-trade pact.
A couple of months later, the two sides revised an aviation pact, lifting restrictions on the flight numbers, destinations and airlines operating these routes, and in April, Taipei and Tokyo signed a memorandum of understanding to speed up patent applications. An industrial cooperation accord is also expected by year’s end.
With rising labor costs in China and deteriorating relations over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, Japan is wisely diversifying and improving ties with the few neighbors. Japan’s Ryukyu island chain, which includes America’s core military base in Asia at Okinawa, almost touches Taiwan. Taiwan also claims ownership of the Senkaku islands, but, since there’s no virulent anti-Japanese nationalism like in mainland China, it avoids confrontation with Japan. Closer Taiwanese ties with Japan might help defuse some of the tension over the islands.
For the U.S. the emergence of Japan as a more independent, regionally active player is a great development. The more American allies in the region develop trade and military relations among each other, the more resilient the peace in Asia will be. And closer bonds between Taiwan and Japan might someday set an example for mainland China to overcome its historical hatreds.