Changing Security and Political Contexts of Japan-Taiwan Relations: A View from Japan

Changing Security and Political Contexts of Japan-Taiwan Relations
A View from Japan

by Yoshihide Soeya
November 1, 2005

This essay examines changing Japan-Taiwan relations in the post-Cold War period by focusing on: the reaffirmation process of the U.S.-Japan alliance since the mid-1990s, Japanese cooperation with the U.S. Missile Defense programs and the military transformation of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, the question of arms exports by Japan, and expanding political contacts between Japan and Taiwan.

There have been remarkable changes since the end of the Cold War in Japanese domestic politics and political discourses regarding defense and security policies. Domestic debate over regional security and national defense have largely been “normalized” in the sense that many postwar taboos have been removed and the Japanese have begun to address sensitive security issues more squarely as integral components of changing regional security landscapes. Thus, what used to be politically infeasible or even unimaginable—such as the dispatches of Japanese Self–Defense Forces to the Indian Ocean, Iraq, and the Southeast Asian region devastated by the earthquake and resulting tsunami—have come to form a visible part of Japan’s new approach to the changing security environment in East Asia and beyond.

As part of these overall changes, Japanese debates and responses concerning the stability of the Taiwan Strait as well as political contacts between Japan and Taiwan have also undergone a significant shift. This paper contends, however, that these ostensibly new trends in Japanese security debates and policies do not indicate a sharp departure from the basic framework established after the end of the World War II.

For example, many vocal advocates for change are conservative politicians, who are conditioned by nationalism. The silent majority of Japanese, however, including younger generations who do not remember World War II, clearly do not share these nationalist sentiments—though they do feel sympathetic not only with some of the frustrations with China voiced by these conservatives, but also with the deficiencies of the postwar security policy that is premised on the peace constitution. The values of the younger Japanese are unquestionably post–modern, trans–national, and aligned more along pro–democracy lines—thus motivating the younger generations to support NGO activities and to help developing countries and peoples.

On the basis of this and other factors, this paper argues that the net effect of the recent changes in Japan’s responses to regional and global security issues—including the Taiwan question—will not result in a radical departure of Japanese strategy, especially toward any reversion to the prewar type of power politics. Instead, Japan’s new attitudes and policies toward Taiwan are being consolidated not only in the newly revitalized alliance framework with the United States, but also under the political context of democratization which has become a strong trend since the end of the Cold War. More specifically, the actual substance of Tokyo’s new policies are still