CHENG TING-FANG and LAULY LI, Nikkei staff writers
TAIPEI — Security talks between Taipei and Tokyo on Friday were focused on Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.’s planned investment in Japan and future collaboration on the chip supply chain, a key lawmaker in Taiwan’s ruling party said.
The comments were made at the first ever regional security dialogue between the ruling parties of Taiwan and Japan — a meeting, already condemned by Beijing, that comes amid growing Chinese aggression in the region.
“Collaboration on the semiconductor industry was one of the key focuses of the talks,” Lo Chih-cheng, of Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party, told reporters after the closed-door online meeting. “We talked about how to help and facilitate TSMC and other key companies’ investments there.”
TSMC, the world’s biggest contract chipmaker, is finalizing plans to build its first chip facility in Japan, the Nikkei Asia first reported in July.
Major economies around the world are seeking to bring chip production on shore to strengthen supply chains due to national security concerns. However, TSMC’s investment in Japan is subject to negotiations with the Japanese government and whether Tokyo can provide enough support and incentives to help the Taiwanese chipmaker meet the cost gap.
Lo said another key focus is on Taiwan’s desire to participate in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The Japanese representatives voiced their support and said they would help Taiwan join the 11-nation regional trade agreement.
Masahisa Sato, a lawmaker in charge of foreign affairs for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, was less explicit than his Taiwanese counterparts.
“There was an exchange of opinions that semiconductors and TPP were also very meaningful in terms of economic security,” Sato said at separate briefing in Tokyo.
Taiwan’s DPP was represented by Lo, a member of its parliamentary foreign affairs committee, and Tsai Shih-ying, of its defense committee. Japan’s LDP sent Sato and Taku Otsuka, who heads the party’s panel on defense issues.
Possible “U.S.-Japan-Taiwan” collaborations were also discussed, as well as the potential cooperation of “Japan, Taiwan, and a third-place,” according to Lo, declined to elaborate on the details.
Tsai Shih-ying said the U.S., Japan, and Taiwan would further cooperate on maritime rescue cooperation. The talks also touched on potential defense collaboration, but Tsai would not go into details citing the sensitivity of the issue.
Lo said the next talks between the two sides could be held by higher-level party officials.
Japan, which does not formally recognize Taiwan, proposed that the talks would be better held in a semi-official capacity between the ruling parties rather than the administrations, a person with direct knowledge told Nikkei Asia.
The relationship between Tokyo and Taipei has blossomed in recent years. Japan has donated more than 3 million AstraZeneca vaccines to Taiwan over the past few months, and mentioned Taiwan for the first time in a statement after a meeting between Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and U.S. President Joe Biden.
The dialogue comes as U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris makes her first visit to Southeast Asia since President Joe Biden came to office. A British aircraft carrier held its first drill on Tuesday with the Japanese Self-Defense Forces off the south of Okinawa, close to Taiwan’s shores.
Analysts say the Japan-Taiwan meeting and Harris’s trip signal deepening collaboration of Washington, Tokyo and Taipei in the Indo-Pacific region to counter China’s growing regional sway.
Ian Tsung-yen Chen, an assistant professor at National Sun Yat-sen University, said this is the first time for Japan and Taiwan to hold talks over “high politics,” or issues involving national security, rather than the “low politics” of international trade, investment, or human rights.
“There’s no simple coincidence in foreign affairs. The timing of the talks when Harris is visiting Southeast Asia indicates Washington’s support over the talks between Tokyo and Taipei,” Chen told Nikkei Asia. “We can view these events as part of the U.S.’ efforts, as well as Japan’s, to secure its interests in the Indo-Pacific [amid] the rise of China.”
The professor said, however, it is a delicate matter for Japan to handle its warming relationship with Taiwan, given that Tokyo still has strong economic ties with Beijing. “The fact that this talk is conducted through lawmakers from both sides instead of government officials gives flexibility for Japan to not fully cross China’s red lines.”
Beijing has nonetheless attacked Japan’s move to speak with Taiwan on security issues as a “mistake.”
“We strongly object to the move and we demand the Japan side immediately correct such mistakes and retract inappropriate speeches and look back to history thoroughly,” China’s Taiwan Affairs Office Spokesman Ma Xiaoguang was quoted as saying by the state-run Xinhua News Agency. “The DPP’s delusion to collude foreign forces to seek independence is destined to end in failure.”
China, which views the democratic-ruled island a wayward province, has been regularly sending military aircraft into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone as cross-strait ties deteriorate.
After a statement following a Group of Seven leaders meeting in June mentioned Taiwan’s growing strategic importance for the first time, China sent 28 jets — the highest ever daily number — to airspace near southwestern Taiwan.
“Taiwan has become a most important focal arena in East Asia when major economies such as the U.S. and Japan are competing with China to grow their influence in the region,” Pan Chao-min, professor of Department of Political Science at Tunghai University told Nikkei Asia.
Pan said the “security dialogue” could have implications for potential future military collaboration.
“That’s something Beijing could have zero tolerance for… When the U.S. and Japan continue to play the Taiwan card to counter Beijing’s aggression in the region it somehow continues to push Taiwan to the very front line and also increases the possibility of conflict across the Taiwan Strait,” Pan added.
“When U.S.-China relations continue to be tense, that will also increase the chances of miscalculations and misunderstandings. The Tsai administration needs to deal with this very carefully.”