Facing an Aggressive China, Japan’s Abe May Turn to Taiwan

TAIPEI -- Relations with Taiwan might not be high on the list of priorities for incoming Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, given the dismal state of the Japanese economy. However, continued tensions with Beijing could make Taipei a valuable partner for Tokyo. Yet it’s uncertain whether Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou’s Kuomintang (KMT) government will be receptive to potential opportunities to improve relations with Japan.

After his election, Abe was quick in promising to mend ties with mainland China. Tokyo-Beijing relations are the worst they have been in decades due to the dispute over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, which were nationalized by Japan last year but are claimed by both China and Taiwan as the Diaoyu and Diaoyutai, respectively. The notion that the issue can be resolved anytime soon, however, as Abe's pledge implies, seems to be wishful thinking, as Tokyo cannot unilaterally control the direction the territorial dispute takes.

“The East China Sea dispute is unlikely to relent, as the Chinese side is on track to challenge the Japanese claim that it is exercising effective administrative control over the islets,” said Steve Tsang, director of the University of Nottingham's China Policy Institute. “This should mean that Abe would prefer to avoid increasing tension with Taiwan, which is also a claimant to the islets.”

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