• Kyodo

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Taiwan’s quasi-official organization tasked with handling ties with Japan in the absence of formal diplomatic relations has unveiled a plaque detailing its new name, hoping to advance bilateral ties to a higher level.

The move Wednesday in Taipei drew an immediate negative reaction from Beijing, where the Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed “strong dissatisfaction” and urged Japan to uphold the “One China” principle, which holds the self-governed island to be an inseparable part of China.

“With the new name, our job becomes clearer to the public,” Chiou I-jen, president of the Taiwan-Japan Relations Association, formerly known as the Association of East Asian Relations, said at the unveiling ceremony in Taipei. The association is tied to the Foreign Ministry.

However, a clearer job also comes with greater responsibility, Chiou said, adding that their main job is to push Taiwan-Japan relations to a higher level.

Describing the association’s name change as a “historic moment,” Taiwan Foreign Minister David Lee said it not only gives the public a better understanding of the association’s mission, it also reflects the positive development of Taiwan-Japan relations.

Lee said he hopes both sides, on the foundation of sound friendship, will strengthen ties in different areas and jointly create a “new and forward-looking relationship.”

Taiwan and Japan severed diplomatic ties in 1972, a year after the United Nations expelled “the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek” and recognized the People’s Republic of China as “the only legitimate representative of China to the United Nations.”

Seeking to maintain unofficial relations with the Republic of China — the official name of Taiwan — Tokyo established the Interchange Association in December 1972 as its de facto diplomatic mission in Taiwan.

Taiwan, for its part, set up the Association of East Asian Relations at about the same time to handle bilateral matters in Taiwan and the Taipei Economic and Culture Representative Office in Japan.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying criticized the name change on grounds that Taiwan is part of China and the Chinese government “resolutely opposes” other countries’ pursuing diplomatic relations with it “in any way.”

She called on Japan to adhere to the One China principle and not to “send the wrong message to the Taiwan authorities and the international community.”

“We are also telling the Taiwan authorities that any attempt to create ‘two Chinas’ or ‘one China, one Taiwan’ are destined not to succeed,” she added.

Despite the lack of diplomatic ties, unofficial relations between Taiwan and Japan have been robust since 1972.

Japan is Taiwan’s third-largest trading partner and Taiwan is Japan’s fourth-largest trading partner. Bilateral trade volume reached $60.2 billion last year.

Japan also remains in the top three favorite countries of people in Taiwan and a favorite destination for Taiwanese tourists. The number of bilateral visits reached a new high of 6.1 million last year.

Chiou’s Japanese counterpart, Mikio Numata, told the ceremony that this year is a milestone in the development of Japan-Taiwan relations, as the name change of the association followed a similar move by Japan’s de facto diplomatic establishment in Taiwan, the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association, earlier this year.

Numata pointed out that bilateral ties require cooperation from both sides or they cannot advance to the next level, but he stopped short of mentioning specifics.

Officials at the Taiwan-Japan Relations Association told Kyodo News that trade negotiations with Japan have been stalled due to Taiwan’s reluctance to ease restrictions on food imports from five Japanese prefectures imposed in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima reactor meltdowns.

“It’s a political issue that requires political solutions,” the official said.

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