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Hopes for new Japan-Taiwan relationship resulting from Air Defense Identification Zone
- Diplomatic power that China will acknowledge

Sachiko Hirakawa
Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, Waseda University

On November 23, the Chinese government announced its own Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). This is a move to justify its frequent infringements into the seas and air space surrounding the Senkaku Islands since their nationalization by the Japanese government in September last year. After hearing this news I took another look at the ADIZ maps, and I must admit I was surprised at how wide Japan’s established area was. The lines were actually drawn by the Americans during their occupation of Japan after World War Ⅱ. This latest incident shows how China is starting to flex its muscles, in defiance of the continuing de facto regional order that is a remnant of post-war American hegemony.

Fundamentally, an ADIZ is not the territorial airspace of a country but a warning area independently established by a country outside its airspace. It is not determined under international law. Nevertheless China’s attitude this time has been very provocative. It has somehow indicated that the airspace above the Senkaku Islands is Chinese airspace, and made it obligatory for all aircraft wishing to enter the identification zone to submit a flight plan and comply with instructions from China’s Ministry of National Defense. In contrast, Japan’s ADIZ deliberately leaves out the airspace above the Northern Territories and the Liancourt Rocks (Takeshima)in the interest of prudence. Another problem is that China announced its ADIZ unilaterally without consulting beforehand with its neighboring countries including Japan and South Korea. This goes against the spirit of regional cooperation previously formed at the China-Japan-South Korea trilateral summit, the ASEAN Plus Three forum, and so on. Many experts believe that under the helm of Xi Jinping, whose aim is to achieve a great national renaissance (the so-called “Chinese dream”), China is raising its consciousness as a major power and has at present stopped dealing with countries other than the US.

Japan, in its latest National Defense Program Guidelines and Mid-Term Defense Program, has also laid out its policy of uniting its Ground, Maritime and Air Self Defense Forces to strengthen the defense of the Ryukyu Islands. By showing this defense capability, Japan needs to demonstrate diplomatic power that China will acknowledge. For peace and security across the whole of East Asia, the current mutually beneficial strategic relationship between China and Japan must be maintained.

(1) Japan-Taiwan relationship as an advanced model for Asia

The term “G2 system” indicates a world order determined by the US and China. Nonetheless, the US and China are, respectively, the major developed and developing nations in international society. It is an asymmetric existence that we can call a “new-type power relationship.” What if Japan, no longer respected by China, were to find a corresponding partner with whom to form a new ideal relationship and assertively convey its values overseas?

The best partner would be Taiwan. The link between Japan and Taiwan, based purely on social relations between their peoples, is a leading model for international relationships in this age of globalization. This is a rare case in Asia with its strong nationalist leanings. Although there have been no official relations between the two countries since they broke off diplomatic ties in 1972, practical exchanges in the economic and social fields between Japanese and Taiwanese people have continued closely and on a large scale through private channels.

Remember the post-earthquake donations and the Taiwan-Japan game in the World Baseball Classic. The feelings of mutual trust and warmth between the Japanese and Taiwanese people would not be easy to recreate with the people of China or South Korea. It is a relationship in which the humanity of free individuals crosses national borders naturally and without the constraints of national “dreams”. Furthermore, the societies of Japan and Taiwan have political systems that are based on universal values such as freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

The stability and success of this social relationship between the two countries should be protected and supported by their governments. Specifically, the early conclusion of a Japan-Taiwan economic partnership agreement (EPA) would be desirable. Although it is legally and technically possible for Taiwan to enter into an EPA or FTA (free-trade agreement), political resistance from China has not allowed this to happen easily. The Taiwanese economy and Japan-Taiwan economic relations have lagged behind the recent trend toward the institutional economic integration within the East Asian region, but they should have more confidence within the region and worldwide in forging “new-type social relations” in tune with the times.

(2) What Japan-Taiwan cooperation can teach China

In the joint declaration made upon the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and China in 1972, Japan recognized the People's Republic of China as “the sole legal government of China” and stated that it “fully understood and respected” China’s stance that “Taiwan is an integral part of the territory of the People's Republic of China.” Since then, 40 years have passed, and China and Taiwan have not yet been unified after all. With the democratization of post-cold war Taiwan, the resolution of the issue of unification with China has become fully dependent upon Taiwan’s decision-making process involving its citizens. Since most Taiwanese hope to maintain the status quo, it is difficult to imagine a scenario of cross-strait unification happening through peaceful dialogue any time soon.

A practical way to build relationships with both China and Taiwan while sticking to the principle of “one China” would be the kind of diplomatic wisdom first applied by Japan 40 years ago. Can Japan again demonstrate global leadership in this “Japanese formula”? Japan, which promotes universal values, should willingly accept the role of drawing Taiwan into the global community based on the new understanding of the times. Japan should boldly promote a Japan-Taiwan EPA and back Taiwan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Taiwan is a member of the WTO and APEC, so such a course is its natural duty. So long as the two countries just stick to the format of conducting negotiations between non-governmental agencies, there should be no conflict with the Japan-China Joint Communique. There is no need to show restraint towards China.

EPAs include wide-reaching coordination and cooperation beyond simple free trade agreements. They could also collaterally cover incidents occurring near the Senkaku Islands. The Taiwanese government is also claiming sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands (or Diaoyu Islands, as they call them), but, unlike China, it is showing a more flexible stance that prioritizes pragmatism, and a Japan-Taiwan fisheries pact on the waters concerned has already been concluded. Japan and Taiwan could take further joint measures against the risks they share in the surrounding sea areas such as natural disasters and environmental problems. At the same time, the islands could be positively used as a site for trans-border interaction between people of the two countries. The areas around the Senkaku Islands should be openly and actively used as a place to practice peace and functional cooperative relations among the people living around them. That would be the message to China.

Japan has to demonstrate bolder diplomatic strength or it will simply continue to be disregarded by China.

Sachiko Hirakawa
Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, Waseda University


She specializes in international politics of East Asia, Asian regional integration, and Sino-Japan relations. She received B.A. in Economics from Waseda University, MALD (Master of Art in Law and Diplomacy) from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University (USA), and Ph.D in International Studies from the Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, Waseda University. Her recent publications include: Two-China Dilemma and Japanese Formula: Diplomatic framework for solution (in Japanese, Keiso Shobo, 2012); Historicizing Asian Regional Integration (Co-editor, in Japanese, Keiso Shobo, 2012); An Introduction and Reference for Asian Regional Integration (Co-editor, in Japanese, Keiso Shobo, 2013); “Southeast Asia in the post-war period: The origins and crossroads of Bandung, non-alignment and ASEAN”, in Regional Integration in East Asia: Theoretical and Historical Perspectives, S. Amako et al, (United Nations University Press, 2013); “Theorizing about Asian Regional Integration: From Perspective of Taiwan Experience”, in Issues and Studies, Vol.40, no.1 (in Japanese, 2011); and “Asian Regional Integration and Cross-strait controversy”, in International Affairs, Vol.158 (in Japanese, 2009).