By Chiba Noriyuki
As Taiwan becomes the frontline of U.S.-China competition and Taiwan’s importance in Japan’s security increases, the Kishida administration’s stance toward Taiwan is drawing attention. The Japan-Taiwan relationship grew stronger and the amicable expression “important friend” became the standard way to describe the relationship during the administrations of Abe Shinzo and Suga Yoshihide. The Kishida administration is maintaining these friendly relations with Taiwan, although some people point out that the administration lacks points of contact with Taiwan.
Foreign minister Hayashi Yoshimasa said on a Fuji TV program on Nov. 21 that Japan will “make full preparations to respond to any situation” with regard to a Taiwan contingency. Hayashi avoided discussing the details by saying he would end up showing his hand if he spoke about specific types of response.
In the international community, other countries have been taking significant actions to demonstrate that they recognize Taiwan’s importance. In November 2021, a delegation of the European Parliament visited Taiwan and held talks with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. An “embassy” of Taiwan was established in Lithuania. Wariness of China’s military expansion and human rights issues is behind these actions.
Japan severed its ties with Taiwan when it normalized its diplomatic relations with China in 1972. Since then, the Japan-Taiwan relationship has been a “non-governmental business relationship” focused on the economy. Recently, under the second Abe administration, the political aspect of the Japan-Taiwan relationship grew stronger through actions such as signing of a fisheries agreement and the dispatch of a vice-minister of internal affairs to an event.
The Japanese government describes Taiwan in official documents as follows: “An important partner with which we share basic values and have a close economic relationship and personal exchanges.” This expression was developed during the Abe administration. The Suga administration also attached importance to the Japan-Taiwan friendship. Japan provided Taiwan with COVID-19 vaccines during this time.
The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)’s Kishida faction (Kochikai) has traditionally been termed “pro-China.” Former Prime Minister Ohira Masayoshi, who was the foreign minister when Japan severed ties with Taiwan, was a member of the Kochikai. Kishida, however, served as foreign minister in the Abe administration, and played a principle role in establishing the administration’s pro-Taiwan stance. Kishida’s great-grandfather ran a clothing store in Taiwan.
Newly appointed foreign minister Hayashi is also a Kochikai member. Hayashi was the chair of the Japan-China friendship parliamentary league until he became the foreign minister. Hayashi is not wholly pro-China, however. At the Nov. 18 teleconference of foreign ministers, Hayashi discussed his concerns to Chinese foreign minister and state councilor Wang Yi the “importance of peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait.”
Nevertheless, Hayashi gives the impression that he is not familiar with Taiwan. In a Nov. 19 press conference, Hayashi only said regarding the Japan-Taiwan relationship that he will “proceed according to principle, as in the past.”
In both the Abe and Suga administrations, LDP Diet members close to the prime minister served as contacts with Taiwan. A Taiwanese insider in Japan commented that he “did not know who in the Kishida administration is the point of contact.” It is widely anticipated that Abe and Diet members, including the suprapartisan Japan-ROC Diet Members’ Consultative Council, will continue to lead the Japan-Taiwan relationship.