The head of Japan’s unofficial mission in Taipei has indicated that Tokyo may further ease its restrictions on official exchanges with Taiwan and pave the way for a trip to the country by top bureaucrats from ministries and agencies, it was learned Tuesday.

Katsuhisa Uchida, chief of the Taipei Office of the Interchange Association, reportedly said Tokyo-Taipei ties are now mature and that “higher-level policy dialogue will become necessary.”

Uchida made the remark in a recent interview with the local bureau of NNA, a Japanese-language news organization based in Tokyo that distributes mainly Asian business news on the Internet.

Since switching diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1972, Tokyo has restricted government officials’ contacts with their Taiwanese counterparts.

But amid deepening business ties with the island, Japan’s Foreign Ministry eased its guidelines, originally introduced in 1980, on visits to Taiwan by government bureaucrats in November.

Under the revised guideline, trips to Taiwan by division chief or officials of a higher rank, which had previously been “basically” banned, will be considered “on a case-by-case basis.”

Touching on the latest review of the guideline, Uchida told NNA that an administrative vice minister of the Ministry of the Economy, Trade and Industry or other ministries may visit Taiwan “depending on the issues” that are at stake.

Uchida’s comment is likely to be welcomed by Taiwanese authorities but may put China on edge. Beijing, which considers Taiwan a renegade providence, warns against high-level contacts between Japan and Taiwan.

In the interview, Uchida emphasized the importance of a security dialogue between Japan and Taiwan, saying it is essential for Japan to know what impact a possible military emergency in the Taiwan Strait would have on its national security.

Uchida was also positive on the likelihood of a free trade agreement between Japan and Taiwan in the future.

Recent visits by high-level Japanese officials to Taiwan include one in 2001 by Tsutomu Sato, then parliamentary secretary for the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, as well as a visit last year by Keiji Furuya, then senior vice minister for the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. The visits, however, were for ceremonial purposes, such as attending a funeral.

Recent revisions to the Foreign Ministry guideline are expected to pave the way for increased trips to Taiwan by officials on practical missions.

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