There is a discernible difference in tone between the subtle language Japanese uses about Taiwan in Washington and the hot, angry reaction China inflicts.
After a meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide and US President Joe Biden on April 17, the leaders released a joint statement, which mentioned the Taiwan issue in a slanting manner.
“We emphasize the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and encourage the peaceful settlement of trans-strait issues,” declare read.
Almost immediately, the Chinese sent feedback, via one editorial in Global Times, urging Japan to stay away from the “Taiwan question”.
“It could play diplomatic tricks in other fields, but if it got involved in Taiwan, it would set itself on fire. The Global Times said the deeper you were dragged in, the greater the price to pay.
Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump both emphasized the United States’ mission to protect the democratic and autonomous Taiwan island. They also sought to unite America’s allies for the righteousness, including Japan.
Although Taiwan’s status issue has been divisive since its separation from China in 1949, it has come back more recently on the agenda. Chinese military aircraft are routinely entering Taiwan’s airspace, and both China and the United States are conducting exercises near the island this spring.
However, referring to Taiwan in the context of the Japan-US summit broke a long-standing taboo, according to Bill Emmott, president of the Japan Association.
“Taiwan is now considered a legitimate area for foreign policy discussion, so the main goal of the Biden administration is Japan to mention Taiwan in some form,” said Emmott.
“I think it’s a way to put pressure on China and say that Taiwan is part of the security deals the US has with its allies. It adjusts China’s tail by defying the familiar notion that one day China’s rebellious province will return to the mainland, which coincidentally has not been part of it since 1895. , ”Emmott continued.
At a press conference on the Garden of Roses, the two leaders wore masks and faced only a handful of reporters, due to restrictions on COVID-19. Viewers at the White House and online both take note of Biden’s strong language.
“Prime Minister Suga and I affirm our deep support for the US-Japan alliance and our common security,” said the US leader.
“We are committed to working together to face challenges from China and issues such as the East China Sea, South China Sea as well as North Korea, to ensure a future of an Indian Ocean,” Biden said. The Pacific is free and open.
The Japanese prime minister is a little more cautious. “We have had serious negotiations over China’s influence on the peace and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific and the world in general,” he told reporters. We agree to oppose any attempt to change the status quo by force or force in the waters of East and South China as well as to threaten others in the region.
Professor John Nilsson-Wright, who teaches Japanese politics at Cambridge University, says Suga may have to be cautious because of political attitudes in Tokyo.
“There is a heated debate on how to deal with China among members of Japan’s ruling party, the LDP, which Suga represents,” Nilsson-Wright told The Diplomat.
“There are hawk politicians, especially among the party’s younger members, who want to criticize China for human rights, Taiwan, Hong Kong and other issues. But there is also an assumption that if the security situation escalates, Japan could be affected in ways that are detrimental to its interests, ”said Nilsson-Wright.
“Japan, like Korea, depends heavily on the Chinese market. So I think many in the party are eager to avoid escalating tensions, even though they may not say so publicly. “
LDP Secretary-General Nikai Toshihiro is noted for his dovish stance towards China and the LDP’s coalition partner, the Komeito, is also more pragmatic than a hawk, towards China.
Suga hopes to be re-elected as head of the LDP, ahead of the general election scheduled for October this year. However, to the public, his recent personal poll ratings are poor, partly the result of numerous allegations of corruption.
Suga is also considered by many to have shown weak leadership in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, which is now spreading across Japan, during the fourth wave of infection. So far, only about 1 percent of the population has been vaccinated.
Japan depends on imported vaccines, such as the Pfizer vaccine from the United States. The prime minister deflected the question of COVID-19 issues when he was challenged by a Reuters journalist at the White House press conference.
Nilsson-Wright said, “There is an uneasy mood within Japan when Suga cannot solve these problems on his own. However, the US economy is sure to be a major growth engine globally next year (due to Biden’s trillion dollar stimulus program), so Japan is hoping to take advantage of that. ” .
At the meeting at the White House, Japan and the United States pledged to cooperate in production and distribution of COVID-19 vaccine. They hope that with India’s help, they will be able to fight China’s vaccine diplomacy, especially in Southeast Asia. Suga will soon visit the Philippines and India.
However, Japan Association President Bill Emmott said that Japan’s own poor performance on the COVID-19 has cast doubt on its international ambitions, which appear to be unsupported by scientific plans or financially reliable. “While it might be good diplomacy to say that Japan and its allies might match China’s vaccine effort, but I’ll be asking, how much is it really worth? ” Emmott asked.
According to another member of the Japan Association, Yuuichiro, Suga’s chances of being asked to lead the LDP in the fall – as well as his success in the national election – will depend largely on him. tackles domestic issues rather than his foreign policy approach Nakajima.
“Mr. Suga’s critics say he has limited diplomatic skills. He is not as good at English and is not as photogenic as his predecessor Shinzo Abe. However, he has succeeded in making President President. Biden agrees with many points that are politically important to him, ”Nakajima said.
These include cooperation in developing 5G mobile technology, an area that Japanese corporations claim to be more advanced and reliable than their Chinese counterparts. According to the post-summit statement, the leaders “affirmed their commitment to the security and openness of 5th generation (5G) wireless networks and agreed that it is important to rely on into reliable suppliers ”.
Nakajima believes that the hostile response from China over the Taiwan issue will have no effect on Suga’s position among his core supporters.
“Right-wing conservatives will be pleased that Taiwan is clearly mentioned,” he said. “That could help stabilize – or even increase – Suga hyung’s popularity, at least in the short term.”