Friday, July 20, 2007

Japan-Taiwan Strategic Cooperation-A Taiwan Perspective

Taiwan and Japan in their best interests should cooperate beyond the issue of security in Taiwan Strait. Both countries share similar concerns about an increasingly aggressive China, and Japan is especially concerned with the situation in the Korean Peninsula, such as a deteriorating US-ROK Alliance and the unpredictability of the North Korean nuclear weapon development program. Moreover, Taiwan and Japan’s heavy dependence on foreign import of energy means that any disruption in Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOC) would put their economies in jeopardy.

The cooperation between Taiwan and Japan should be “strategic” in nature, and the strategic cooperation should be broad, namely, it must cover not only security but also economic and political issues. It should also be geographically broad in scope and not limited to “areas surrounding to Taiwan and Japan,” for the reason that Taiwan and Japan, both offshore maritime countries located beyond continental Asia, share similar geo-strategic interests.

The power configuration in Taiwan and Japan’s best interest would be a stable balance of power that tends to tip in favor of maritime democracies in Asia. Such configuration would require a strong maritime alliance acting as an offshore balancer to prevent continental powers in Asia from expanding its influence to the maritime, and to keep this area as open and inclusive to all countries in this region.

However, this configuration could be cast in military terms as well as economic and political terms. The regional economy is witnessing a dangerous tilt toward an exclusive bloc, since China is putting pressure on other regional players not to include Taiwan. Taiwan should be open to further cooperation with other regional players and make sure that the regional economy remains open, inclusive, and transparent. In my view, the first step of Taiwan and Japan’s strategic cooperation in the region would be facilitating a Taiwan-Japan FTA though the two countries should by no means be limited by it. Such cooperation must consider the ways Taiwan and Japan could further build economic relations with Southeast Asia and India.

On the issue of politics, I would like to bring up a somehow worrisome picture to your attention. By the end of 2008, leaders in Taiwan, U.S., Japan, South Korea and very possibly Russia would most likely be different. Only leaders of remaining communist countries like China and North Korea would remain. New leadership would require some time to start running their respective governments. More importantly, they would require time to familiarize with their neighbors in order to ideally build better foreign relations with each other.

It goes without saying that there exist numerous difficulties despite tremendous progress in relations between Taiwan and Japan. The problem is the continuing lack of institutionalized senior-level official meetings between the two. Though leadership in both countries is determined to push ahead cooperation between Taiwan and Japan, no such mechanism has occurred among senior-level officials. However, a stronger Taiwan-Japan relation would strengthen U.S.-Japan alliance and aid in coordinating better bilateral cooperation between Taiwan and the U.S.-Japan alliance.

In my view, India is another important player in this configuration. It would effectively function as a powerful balancer against the two major Asian continental powers of Russia and China. Moreover, India occupies a critical location crucial to the security of SLOC to both Taiwan and Japan. Taiwan should play a supporting role in strengthening US-Japan alliance as well as the bridge between India and US-Japan alliance. A strategically-connected India in the Asian maritime region would dissuade not only continental powers (i.e. Russia and China) from expanding into East Asian maritime region but also Southeast Asia countries, which will also provide some breathing room for these countries’ domestic reconstruction.

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