Kyodo News’ Taiwan correspondent Max Hirsch had an insightful, well-written piece in the Japan Times on the ongoing positive trend in Taiwan-Japan relations:

Taipei’s relations with Tokyo will remain strong despite jitters in Taiwan over whether new Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda will distance his country from the embattled island, experts say.

Like Shinzo Abe, his predecessor, Fukuda is expected to seek improved relations with Beijing as prime minister, but at what cost — if any — to Taiwan, is a question that now looms large in Taipei.

“People say that (Fukuda) is good to China,” said David Wang, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman. “However, we don’t speculate on such matters.”

Despite anxiety as to future relations with Japan, the self-ruled island claimed by Beijing has little to fear beyond a “time-out” in high-level meetings, said Luo Chi-cheng, a Japan watcher and director of the independence-advocate Taiwan Thinktank.

China’s territorial claims in contested waters near Japan and security issues involving Beijing “are points of friction that any Japanese prime minister must face,” Luo said.

China became Japan’s top trading partner in 2004, forcing Tokyo under Abe two years later to improve relations with China after a frosty stint in diplomacy with Beijing under his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi.

“There may be more diplomacy and compromising with China by Japan under Fukuda, but the problems will always be there,” Luo said. “That won’t change under any leader in Tokyo.”

Under threat of attack by Beijing, Taiwan — a democratic island of 23 million — relies heavily on help from the United States and Japan for its security.

The island has been self-governed since 1949, when the Chinese nationalists and communists split at the end of a civil war in China, with the nationalists fleeing to Taiwan while the communists established their government in Beijing.

Note that last paragraph: [drum roll] the first major media ever to get the 1949 split correct! I may faint. Hirsch observes:

Amid that rockiness [in US-Taiwan relations], Taiwanese officials should also brace themselves for a lull in meetings with high-level Japanese officials as Fukuda courts Beijing, even as unofficial ties between Taiwan and Japan and Taiwan’s strategic importance to Tokyo grow, Luo said.

“Changes will happen in the way high-level officials from Taiwan and Japan interact,” he added.

Fortunately for Taiwan, Fukuda is just as focused on maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait as he is on boosting ties with China, said Luo Fu-chuan, Taiwan’s former de facto ambassador to Japan in the absence of official diplomatic relations.

“(Fukuda) has always been focused on Asian security. He seeks to employ peaceful means to maintain the status quo in the Taiwan Strait,” he said.

“I can’t see any big changes in Japan-Taiwan relations on the horizon,” he added. “Japan won’t sacrifice Taiwan for China.”

Chinese expansionism is pushing Japan and Taiwan closer together. As they move closer together, it will be harder for the US to drop Taiwan altogether. Quiet constructive growth in Japan-Taiwan relations is thus good news for Taiwan in many ways.

ADDED: Fukuda, according to the latest Nelson Report, has expressed strong reservations about the character and motives of President Bush, saying he does not take into account the feelings of allies. Just another success in the never-ending victories of the Great Decider!