Tokyo, Japan – The Japanese government has injected itself into the increasingly tense confrontation in the Taiwan Strait.
Last Friday, Japan sent 1.24 million doses to Taiwan of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 coup, after Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen accused China of blocking territory access to vaccines amid its worst coronavirus outbreak since the pandemic began.
Beijing considers Taiwan, an autonomous island located 161 km (100 miles) off the Chinese coast, as part of its territory and has not ruled out the use of force to achieve its goal. He has taken an increasingly affirmative stance since Tsai was first elected in 2016, saying he wants the independence of the island’s 23.6 million people and that tensions have risen as traditional allies, including the United States, came together to support Taiwan.
Japan has for decades taken a calmer approach.
But with China’s growing economic and military power and its continued challenge to Japanese sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands, known to the Chinese as the Diaoyutai Islands, the Tokyo government is changing course.
“Japanese conservatives have really taken advantage of the Taiwan issue as a way to draw lines with the Chinese,” said Daniel Sneider, a professor of East Asian Studies at Stanford University.
The rise of China has worried many in Japan.
In recent years, Beijing has become increasingly demanding in the Asia-Pacific region, showing its military power in the East China Sea and the South China Sea to support its maritime and territorial claims. in disputed seas.
Taiwan, which also claims the South China Sea, has done the same He felt the heat of Beijing.
Over the past year, the Chinese military has sent fighter jets into the island’s airspace almost daily, with 25 Chinese military aircraft flying on April 12th.
“Interest in Taiwan’s security”
In an attempt to counter China’s growing influence, Japan is establishing security ties with countries such as Australia and India and strengthening its alliance with the United States, which also sees Beijing as a strategic competitor.
When U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga met in Washington, DC, in April, China was the main focus of their talks. And for the first time in more than half a century, the joint statement of the leaders included a reference to “The Importance of Peace and Stability in the Taiwan Strait.”
In addition, when the Japanese defense ministry published a draft of its annual “white paper” last month, it mentioned the Taiwan issue for the first time.
“The stability of the situation surrounding Taiwan is important for the security of Japan and the stability of the international community,” the draft document said.
Beijing condemned the Japanese-American stance on Taiwan as interfering in its internal affairs, and accused the two countries of “making gangs to form cliques and confront the bloc confrontation.” Chinese officials have also previously described concerns about its military and economic influence as part of a “Cold War mentality” that wants to contain it.
It is in this broad context that Japan, which once ruled Taiwan as a colony, jumped to the aid in the island while rushing to secure the supply of the coronavirus vaccine.
As Sneider said, “it’s about proving that Japan has an interest in Taiwan’s de facto independence and security. It’s that simple. “
Beijing has denounced the movements in Japan.
When the first reports in Tokyo of sending vaccines to Taipei emerged in late May, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin responded forcefully. “We are firmly against those who exploit the pandemic to do political shows or even intervene in China’s internal affairs,” he said. “I have noticed that Japan can hardly guarantee an adequate supply of vaccines at home.”
He added: “I would like to stress that vaccine assistance should be restored to its original purpose, which is to save lives, and should not be reduced to a tool for selfish political benefits.”
Wang’s assertion that politics is involved was not entirely out of place.
Several Japanese and Taiwanese media reports highlighted the role played by former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a long-time “hawk of China” to expedite the delivery of vaccines to Taiwan.
Reporting on June 3, the Sankei Shinbun newspaper said Abe, who left office last September, had been closely involved in the talks and noted Taiwan’s generous donations to Japan at the time of the 2011 devastating earthquake and tsunami.
“Biggest victory for Taiwan”
In Taiwan, the Japanese donation was a triumph for the Tsai government.
Tsai, who received worldwide praise for his treatment of the pandemic at first, faces public anger after a sudden increase in COVID-19 infections which began last month. So far, the island has recorded 11,968 infections and 333 deaths, the vast majority of which were recorded last month.
With less than 3 percent of the Taiwanese public vaccinated, anger is growing over the scarcity of COVID-19 shots.
Taiwan says the crisis has been exacerbated by China.
On May 26, Tsai accused China of using its influence to block a large delivery of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Beijing, however, has denied the claim and says Taiwan has in fact refused to accept its vaccine offer. Wang, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, also accused Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of prioritizing “political manipulation over anti-epidemic cooperation.”
Lev Nachman, a visiting scholar at Taiwan National University, said the DPP had a dilemma.
“The reality is that Taiwan needs vaccines,” he said, “and Catch-22 is that the DPP government really can’t afford to take vaccines from the PRC.”
He noted that if the independence-oriented DPP went to the continent to ask for help, it could undermine the party’s own legitimacy as a self-governing force.
But “taking vaccines from Japan is far less politically charged than taking vaccines from the People’s Republic of China, which is, of course, a major victory for Taiwan,” Nachman said.
In addition, the process of introducing vaccines from Japan allowed several rival DPP politicians to make a rare demonstration of unity, which indicated that they had acted responsibly for the benefit of the people, even though the Taiwanese authorities they still have a long way to go to get the vaccines. for the entire population of the island.
Even supporters of the Beijing-based opposition party, the Kuomintang, feel a “quiet appreciation” for Japan, Nachman said.
Many Taiwanese also flocked to social media to show their gratitude when news of the Japanese donation arrived. Several people posted photos of themselves traveling to Japan in the pre-pandemic era as a means to demonstrate their recognition and closeness to their northern island neighbors, according to Brian Chee-Shing Hioe, editor of New Bloom, an online magazine that covers youth culture. and politics in Taiwan and the Asia-Pacific.
Hioe also delved into the broader strategic context, noting that Japan’s donation was followed a couple of days later by the American promise of 750,000 doses.
“The United States was coordinating this behind the scenes,” Hioe said, “to consolidate this relationship between Japan and Taiwan, which is useful for regional security, for American purposes.”