Former Taiwan president Lee Teng-hui, who died on July 30, was known as the “Father of Democracy in Taiwan” and an avowed friend of Japan. Hundreds of mourners, including former Japanese prime minister Yoshiro Mori and other foreign dignitaries, attended a memorial service for Lee held on Saturday September 19, at the chapel of Aletheia University near the capital of Taipei.
Heading the U.S. delegation was Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Keith Krach, the third ranking diplomat in the State Department. Krach is the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat to visit Taiwan in 41 years.
China, which loathed President Lee, reacted with anger to the U.S.-Taiwan “condolence diplomacy” by launching major military exercises in the Taiwan Strait.
Beijing must immediately stop such incendiary behavior that heightens tensions in the region.
Taiwan’s current president Tsai Ing-wen hosted Krach at a dinner meeting on Friday September 18, at which they discussed ways in which to bolster bilateral ties. Krach also held meetings with other top Taiwan officials, including the foreign minister and minister for economic affairs.
Already in August the Trump Administration had dispatched U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to express condolences in the wake of Lee’s death. The U.S. also sent an Aegis missile destroyer through the Taiwan Strait as a sign of support for Taiwan. According to a Reuters report, Washington and Taipei are currently negotiating the sale of cruise missiles, unmanned aircraft and other arms to Taiwan.
The United States is determined to strengthen relations with Taiwan, a society which shares values such as freedom and democracy. Furthermore, the island nation will serve as a key link in its strategy to contain the hegemonic expansionism of the Communist regime in China.
According to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense, on September 18 China sent 19 fighter jets and bombers to penetrate the island’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). Of these, eight aircraft crossed the China-Taiwan defacto “Line of Control.” That was the largest number of warplanes to date to breach this median line in the Taiwan Strait. Beijing’s actions are tantamount to dangerous military provocations.
Time to Scrap Japan’s Voluntary Self-restraints
In comparison to the United States, we can hardly claim that Japan’s response has been adequate. No serving Japanese government officials were present at Lee’s memorial service. Former Prime Minister Mori led the Japanese delegation at the memorial service, which carried a message from Shinzo Abe, who recently stepped down as prime minister.
It read, “President Lee Teng-hui made great contributions to enhancing friendly ties between Japan and Taiwan.” Abe added that Lee had done much to advance the development of democracy in Taiwan.
Although Taiwan certainly appreciates the attendance by the delegation and Abe’s message, they are no substitute for attendance by current Japanese top officials.
The fact is that Japan has been following a policy of voluntary self-restraint on visits by top government officials out of deference to Beijing’s wishes. That is so despite the fact that then- Senior Vice Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Jiro Akama paid an official visit to Taiwan in 2017.
If it is to uphold the principles of freedom and democracy, the newly inaugurated administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga should aim for relations of solidarity with the United States and Taiwan. That means scrapping the anachronistic policy of self-restraint by allowing Cabinet members and vice ministers to visit Taiwan.
China’s military provocations against Taiwan also threaten the security of Japan itself since it is situated next to Taiwan. That is yet another reason for the Japanese government to more clearly criticize the Chinese provocations.