One of the most important trends in the Asian region in the last few years has been the increasingly good ties between Tokyo and Taipei, symbolized by the recent visit of former Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro and a set of Japanese art treasures to the Beautiful Island this month. Taiwan News editorialized:

However, substantive relations between Taiwan and Japan can be said to be in the best phase for over three decades.

In 2004, Japan voted to approve Taiwan’s application to participate in the World Health Assembly as an observer and the following year, together with the United States, listed the Taiwan issue as a matter of common concern for the U.S.-Japan security partnerships.

In addition, in September 2005, the Japanese Diet approved a bill submitted by the Japanese government that granted Taiwan tourists permanent visa-free entry into Japan, a privilege not enjoyed by PRC citizens.

Moreover, the bilateral trade between the two economies broke a historical record by topping US$60 billion. Nevertheless, it is evident that the long-time pro-Taiwan and conservative hawk Abe wishes to break new ground as Japan’s prime minister. His decision to restore summit meetings between the PRC and Japan was clearly made for the benefit of Japan’s national interests as well as his own political situation.

For these same national interests, Abe clearly believes that it is impossible to avoid making some concessions on the Taiwan issue to Beijing.

This trend may have been a factor in the repeated delays to the planned visit to Japan by former Taiwan president Lee Teng-hui.

Although Lee abruptly postponed his planned visit citing ill health, the real reason was apparently that Abe had suddenly canceled his own invitation to hold a meeting with the former Taiwan head of state.

Hence, Mori’s visit to Taiwan at the head of a large delegation is evidently timed to complement Abe’s “multilayered diplomacy” and calm anxieties in Taipei over the possible impact of his initiatives on our country’s ties with our closest northern neighbor.

Japan has a difficult balancing act, given the problems it has with both China and South Korea, the faltering US position in the world, and the debate at home over what its role in the world should be. Abe’s Taiwan policy shows that he is clearly committed to keeping his friends close, and his enemies, closer….