Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Sanae Takaichi, a contender in the LDP presidential race, held rare talks with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen on Monday, with discussions focusing on ways to deepen security and economic cooperation — including the possibility of Tokyo’s support for Taipei joining a key regional trade pact.

Tsai joined the online meeting with Takaichi, a conservative politician known for her hawkish views on China, in her capacity as the the head of Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party.

The former internal affairs minister initially announced the meeting Monday on Twitter, saying that the pair “were able to hold positive discussions aimed at expanding and deepening security and practical exchanges.”

She said the meeting, which lasted about 30 minutes, had been in the works for more than a month.

Tsai also took to Twitter to praise the meeting with Takaichi, calling it “a very meaningful exchange of opinions.”

In a short clip of the videoconference posted to YouTube on Tuesday, Takaichi praised Japan’s increasingly close ties with Taiwan, as well as the two neighbors’ growing focus on security relations and ensuring the stability of the regional rules-based order — an implicit criticism of China’s growing assertiveness near the self-ruled island.

It is extremely rare for a Japanese politician, especially a contender for the LDP presidency and in this case a possible prime minister, to hold a meeting with senior Taiwanese officials, let alone the island’s leader.

Although Taiwan and Japan do not have formal diplomatic ties, the two sides have long maintained a robust relationship that includes economic and cultural exchanges.

In recent months their ties have grown closer than ever, with Tokyo having become far more vocal in the public sphere about its concerns over China’s assertiveness, especially its actions near the self-ruled island and in the East China Sea.

China claims Taiwan as a renegade province that must be brought back into the fold — by force, if necessary — and regards it as a core issue.

Senior Japanese officials have in recent months noted with trepidation the possibility of conflict erupting in the Taiwan Strait, with Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and others even referring to a Chinese invasion of the self-ruled island as an existential threat to Japan’s own security.

But in the talks with Tsai, Takaichi also noted that her concerns went beyond national defense.

“I think we need to focus not only on national defense, but also on economic security,” Takaichi said, Japanese and Taiwanese flags hanging from a wall behind her.

Takaichi pointed to the need for the two sides to work together to ensure stable global supply chains, highlighting the chaos that microchip shortages have wrought.

The LDP contender also offered an endorsement of Taiwan’s participation in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which is currently chaired by Japan.

“Japan supports (Taiwan’s) participation and wants to provide as much support as possible, including helping solve various problems and meeting prerequisites for joining the CPTPP,” she said, adding that Tokyo will continue to promote Taiwan’s involvement in other international bodies.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen attends a commissioning ceremony for a new Ta Chiang guided-missile corvette in Suao, Taiwan, on Thursday. | BLOOMBERG
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen attends a commissioning ceremony for a new Ta Chiang guided-missile corvette in Suao, Taiwan, on Thursday. | BLOOMBERG

China submitted a formal application to join the deal on Thursday. The original 12-member agreement, known then as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, was seen as an important economic counterweight to China’s growing influence.

But the massive trade agreement was thrown into limbo in early 2017 when then-U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew. The administration of Trump’s successor, Joe Biden, has effectively put rejoining the pact on the backburner as it prioritizes its COVID-19 response.

Tsai, for her part, said mutual assistance between Taiwan and Japan is critical to regional stability, adding that she hopes for closer bilateral cooperation in several areas, including regional security, economic development and the global supply chain.

Still, security issues appeared to be at the top of her agenda.

“Taiwan and Japan share a very important bond, and it is very important that we help each other,” Tsai said. “However, we are living in an era of a rapidly changing strategic order. This is a very tough challenge for all countries and their leaders. I expect Japan and Taiwan to work with all countries in the region to pursue peace and stability.”

Among the candidates in the Sept. 29 LDP leadership election, Takaichi is widely seen as taking the strongest stance against Beijing.

The former internal affairs minister has called the odds of a conflict erupting over Taiwan “high,” pledging that her government would be prepared to respond to any emergency situation. On Sunday, she raised eyebrows as the sole candidate to say that she would accept a U.S. deployment of ground-based intermediate-range missiles in Japan amid the growing security threat from China.

“Deploying intermediate-range missiles is absolutely necessary to protect the lives and territory of the Japanese people,” she said.

Although she placed third in a weekend Kyodo News poll of LDP members on the most suitable candidate to be party leader and effectively Japan’s next prime minister, Takaichi has seen a groundswell of support in recent days.

According to the Kyodo poll, Takaichi had the support of 15.7% of respondents, trailing former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida at 18.5% and far behind vaccination czar Taro Kono at 48.6%.

The conservative lawmaker has also garnered endorsements from some of the party’s most outspoken China hawks, including former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe; Abe’s brother and current defense chief, Nobuo Kishi; his deputy, State Minister of Defense Yasuhide Nakayama; and former defense chief Tomomi Inada, among others.

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