Taiwan-Japan relations as a complementary counter-balance to Cross-Strait relations: the case of Diaoyutai/Senkaku dispute (Conference Paper)

Co-Author: Misato Matsuoka (University of Warwick)
Conference Paper presented on April 30, 2014, Conference of European Association of Taiwan Studies in Portsmouth


Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

This paper seeks to examine the potential roles of Taiwan-Japan relationship that has been rarely considered in the analysis of regional relations. Conventionally, Taiwan’s peculiar position in regional and global politics is scrutinised through lenses of two counter-balancing relationships: (1) cross-Strait relations (CSR) with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and (2) its relationship with the United States defined by the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, and the interplay among the three states has been vital for Taipei in terms of upholding its de facto independence.However, with the increasing assertiveness of Beijing regarding maritime territorial disputes along its coastline, Taipei often acts outside of the established partnership in an effort to secure its claim and/or negotiate settlement with other claimants. In 2012-2013 alone, Taiwan has been involved in two escalations along its maritime borders with two US treaty allies: Japan and the Philippines, both cases providing an example of Taipei’s own involvement in regional disputes. Particularly regarding the former case, with the return of Shinzo Abe to premiership, there has been remarkable dynamics in Taiwan-Japan relations. In January 2013, Japanese Ministry of Defence’s White Paper publicly acknowledged potential PRC’s attack on Taiwan as one of the examined scenarios leading to Japan’s conflict with the PRC. More significantly, in April Japan and Taiwan reached an agreement on fishing right in the disputed area of Diaoyutai/Senkaku islands, significance of which stands out when comparing with willingness of other claimants to make compromises over their territorial claims in East and South China Seas. This has presumably happened on the background of nearly non-existent anti-Japanese sentiment in Taiwan driven by extensive people-to-people contacts, exemplified by the amount of private donations by Taiwanese to Japan in the aftermath of 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

The case on which we intend to examine the current state of Taiwan-Japan relations and its implications for US-Taiwan, cross-Strait relations, and also US-Japan relations is the case of Diaoyutai/Senkaku dispute, including analysis of the motivations leading to April 2013 fishing agreement, and positions of both countries on China’s announcement of Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) in November 2013 which are directly related to the dispute over Diaoyutai/Senkaku islands. The salience of each partner for promoting one’s national interests and the dynamics that makes the relationship outstanding from US-Taiwan relationship are underscored based upon on the assumption that Japan’s active interest in preserving Taiwan’s de facto independence provides for a complementary counter-balance to Cross-Strait relations.This would be similar to US-Taiwan relations but standing on its own logic, i.e. Japan-Taiwan relations are not the mere extension of US-Taiwan relations but reflect mutual interests of Taipei and Tokyo, strong enough to make both parties make compromises on the matters that are otherwise considered as issues of territorial integrity. Taking into account the recent evolving Taiwan-Japan relationship, the paper explores the possibility to go beyond “Taiwan Clause” enlisted in the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. Ultimately, the paper proposes that the complementarity of US-Taiwan and Japan-Taiwan relations might work as a mutually reinforcing the interest of all three actors to preserve the status quo.

Read full paper here.

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