The Taiwan Strait may be the next major diplomatic problem after China’s clampdown on Hong Kong, according to former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, one of two declared candidates to serve as the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s next leader.
Speaking in an interview on Friday, just before Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga made a surprise announcement that he was stepping down, Kishida said Japan should seek to cooperate with Taiwan and countries that share its values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law, as authoritarian countries wield more power.
“Taiwan is at the front line of the standoff between the U.S. and China,” he said. “Looking at the situation with Hong Kong and the Uyghurs, I have a strong feeling that the Taiwan Strait will be the next big problem.”
He also said the ¥30 trillion demand gap should be borne in mind when considering the amount of economic stimulus needed. Kishida earlier this week said he wanted to spend tens of trillions of yen to soften the economic fallout from the pandemic and to have people cooperate with restrictions on their movements, which are intended to slow the spread of the virus.
Whoever becomes party leader is all but assured to be next prime minister due to the LDP’s dominant position in the Diet.
Kishida announced his candidacy this week for leadership of the LDP, with a vote set to take place Sept. 29, ahead of a general election that must be held by the end of November. Vaccine chief Taro Kono — a 58-year-old former foreign minister — plans to seek the LDP presidency, broadcaster TBS reported, without citing anyone.
If he succeeds in taking over the top job, Kishida will need to manage a difficult relationship with China, his country’s biggest trading partner. Spooked by Beijing’s clampdown in Hong Kong, senior Japanese lawmakers are increasingly speaking out about the importance of Taiwan to Japan’s security, sparking irritation from Beijing, which sees the island as part of its territory and frequently flies warplanes close by.
Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi in June said that Taiwan’s security was directly linked to that of Japan, while Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso said in July the U.S. and Japan would have to defend Taiwan together in the event of a major crisis.
Asked how Japan would respond in the event of an emergency involving Taiwan, Kishida said only it would take actions in line with the law. The Self-Defense Forces are circumscribed by a pacifist Constitution and relies heavily on its ally, the U.S., for the shelter of a “nuclear umbrella.”
Nonetheless, Kishida said a contingency in the Taiwan Strait would have an enormous effect on Japan. He added the country’s defense budget was likely to continue rising, as it seeks to equip itself to deal with threats from the surrounding region, including North Korea.
Taiwan is a key producer of the semiconductors needed to advance Japan’s economy, and the Luzon Strait to the south is an important shipping lane for the energy tankers resource-poor Japan relies on to power its factories and homes.
Often seen as a dove, Kishida heads a faction within the LDP that was once known for its friendly ties with China, a policy he said was tailored to the diplomatic landscape of the time and needed to be adapted to a new reality.
“The times have changed a great deal,” he said. “China has also changed. China is now a big presence in international society, and I have various concerns about its authoritarian attitude.”
While serving as foreign minister, Kishida was best-known for agreeing in 2015 for what was billed as a full and final settlement of the “comfort women” issue with South Korea. The issue over comfort women, who were forced or coerced into Japan’s wartime brothel system under various circumstances, including abduction, deception and poverty, has soured ties with South Korea for decades.
The deal later fell apart and Tokyo’s relations with Seoul turned increasingly bitter in the subsequent years, affecting trade and business ties, as well as U.S. efforts to coordinate on security with its two main allies in the region.
Other comments Kishida made in the interview:
- He would retain the Bank of Japan’s 2% inflation target
- He would encourage Taiwan to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, if it can meet the necessary high standards
- Suga made his best efforts on diplomacy, but fell short on effectively communicating Japan’s policies
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