It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the most high-profile action of world politics in recent months carried out (and probably planned) in the style of a Hollywood hard thriller was the visit to Taiwan of the speaker of the lower house of the US parliament Nancy Pelosi. But the information noise raised by the world media long before, during and after this trip itself, served as a dense screen behind which some other events hardly less significant from the standpoint of assessing the development of both the Taiwan issue itself and the situation in the entire East Asian region remained almost unnoticed.
It would suffice to point out at least the fact of a four-day stay in the same Taiwan of another group of Japanese politicians who appeared on the island on July 27 and left it two days before Pelosi’s plane landed at Taipei airport. The composition of the four-people delegation is already noteworthy, as two of its members at the end of the 2000s held (one after the other, for a year each) the post of Minister of Defense of Japan. Two other guests were previously deputy defense ministers. Today, all four are members of the country’s parliament.
Shigeru Ishiba, who headed the delegation, is a very prominent figure in Japanese politics, if not flamboyant. He was Minister of Defense in the period 2007-2008 and Minister of Agriculture during the following year. Heading the far-right faction of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Ishiba has consistently positioned himself as a tough opponent of Shinzo Abe, who served as Prime Minister of Japan in 2013-2020.
Throughout his political career, Ishiba has paid special attention to the issues of military construction of the country. Publicly speaking out against the possession of nuclear weapons, he believes that the country should have all the resource and technological potential for its rapid deployment “in case of emergency.”
Upon arrival at Taipei Airport, Ishiba stated to the meeting journalists that during the upcoming meetings with Taiwanese colleagues, the delegation headed by him intends to pay special attention to “issues of ensuring regional security.”
In this regard, local commentators remind that by the end of this year, Japan is going to adopt a number of long-term documents on various aspects of national and regional security. And since the situation around Taiwan has turned out to be almost the main irritant of relations between leading regional players in recent years, then, in addition to a political demonstration (anti-Chinese orientation), the delegation that arrived on the island apparently solved quite an applied task, which was reduced to obtaining information “from primary sources” potentially useful for the drafters of these documents.
Members of the Japanese delegation met together and separately with representatives of expert circles, visited the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense, and the Parliament of the island. The main event of the whole visit was the reception of Shigeru Ishiba by President Tsai Ing-wen in her office.
During this meeting, the Taiwanese President made a number of notable passages. In particular, she said that Taiwan looks forward to working with Tokyo in the field of ensuring stability in the IT industry. The key position of Taiwan in the so-called “First Island Line” was also pointed out. It should be noted that this “line” (starting from the Kuril Islands in the north and ending with the Philippine Archipelago in the south) is considered in the United States as a natural barrier with which it will be possible to block (“at the right moment”) the Chinese Navy’s entry into the Pacific Ocean.
It is noteworthy that the Japanese delegation visited the burial site of Li Denghui, who served as President of Taiwan in the period of 1988-2000, and who was the first in the entire post-war period to be at the head of the island’s administration as a result of a democratic electoral procedure. Since his death on July 30, 2000, Li Denghui has been highly revered both in Taiwan and Japan. In his youth, he studied in Japan, and at the final stage of World War II, he served in the Imperial Army. The late president always complimented the period of Taiwan’s (Fomosa) stay in Japan and advocated the development of comprehensive relations with it.
The iconic name of the former Taiwanese president was also mentioned at another event held the very next day after the departure of Ishiba’s delegation. It is also a case of a commemorative ceremony, which resulted in a forum organized by the Taiwanese “Li Denghui Foundation.” This forum had been planned several months ago and was supposed to present a speech by the already retired Shinzo Abe, who died at the hands of a murderer three weeks earlier. Therefore, this whole event resulted in the commemoration of Abe, “a great friend of Taiwan and Li Denghui personally.”
The ceremony was attended by the head of the Taipei branch of the so-called “Association of Japan-Taiwan Relations” (that is, in fact, the Embassy of Japan in Taiwan) and the same Mrs. Tsai. In addition to the appropriate words in memory of Shinzo Abe and Li Denghui, something practically significant was also said. Namely, the head of the aforementioned “Association” promised to assist Taipei’s intention to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), in which Japan is the de facto leader.
Let’s make some remarks on the discussed visit of the Japanese delegation as a whole. First, it should be emphasized again that the visit included politicians of the highest rank for the entire period since 1972, when Japan broke off diplomatic relations with Taiwan. In this regard, Tokyo adheres to the same strategy of gradually increasing the “political weight” of people visiting Taiwan as the United States. Although at the level of official rhetoric, the declaration of compliance with the “One China Principle”, which is critically important for Beijing, continues, the real actions of significant representatives of the Japanese political community are rendering increasingly innocuous its semantic content.
Secondly, it seems obvious that Washington and Tokyo have a comprehensive coordination of practical measures in relation to Taiwan and China. Undoubtedly, the synchronicity of the recent visits to Taiwan by the delegations of Japan and the United States of such a high level was not accidental. Actually, the fact of such an agreement was confirmed during the negotiations held on July 31 in Washington between foreign Ministers of both countries Yoshimasa Hayashi and Antony Blinken.
These negotiations took place as part of a new bilateral “2+2 Economic Forum” platform. Recall that until now, in various paired interstate configurations, the “2+2 Format” was composed of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense, who discuss mainly the defense-political aspects of bilateral relations. The very fact of the formation of the American-Japanese “2+2 Economic Forum” indicates the increasing importance of economic aspects at the present stage of the “Big World Game”.
Declaring their desire to maintain a “frank dialogue with China,” both participants of the first US-Japanese “2+2 Economic Forum” stressed the need for “peaceful resolution of problems in relations between the shores of the Taiwan Strait.” But this formula is absolutely unacceptable for Beijing, from the standpoint of which, firstly, it is not a case of the “shores of the Taiwan Strait,” but of “One China,” which has problems with one of its “provinces.” And these problems, secondly, can be solved not only by “peaceful” ways.
Finally, let us once again denote the extremely important fact, at the present stage of the “Great World Game”, of the increasing importance of Japan’s participation in it. It is hardly possible to guarantee that the current practice of almost absolute coordination with Washington of Tokyo’s behavior in the international arena, including in the Taiwan issue, will continue indefinitely.
It is possible that at some point in Japan they will come to the conclusion that there is a significant discrepancy between the actual Japanese interests of what today, in tandem with “big brother”, they have to do in politics in the Chinese direction as a whole.
However, it is impossible to exclude the possibility of a radical correction in a similar policy of the “big brother” itself. As part of such a correction, a recent defiant trip to Taiwan by a third person in the American state hierarchy would look like an accidental outlier. If true, this would have the most positive impact on the current alarming global situation.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.