Ma Ying-jeou has returned from his recent trip to Japan, and it appears to have gone well, reports Max Hirsch of the Kyodo News service:

The KMT, which identifies strongly with Chinese culture and nationalism, has traditionally fared poorly in wooing Tokyo.

Ma hopes to improve those relations as Japan becomes a more important trading and strategic partner for Taiwan.

“I’ve changed my mind about Mr. Ma,” said Lower House member Takeo Hiranuma after meeting Ma on Thursday. “I think his proposals are good.”

Behind Ma’s improved reception in Tokyo are his vows to improve Taipei-Tokyo ties while maintaining the status quo in the Taiwan Strait — a potential global flash-point that would likely impact Japan.

China, which has vowed to unify Taiwan with the mainland, threatens to attack the island if it tries to make its independence stance a permanent one.

Those threats keep Tokyo concerned because any conflict in the strait could see intervention from the United States, which would drag the Japanese military into the conflict via a joint defense pact and affect its southern territory.

Ma wooed lawmakers this time by promising peace in the strait through improved economic and security relations with Beijing. He also vowed to make Taiwan a “hard rock” by maintaining defense spending “at no less than 3 percent of Taiwan’s growth domestic product.”

Ma typically does well overseas, where settings and speakers can be controlled, and he can be on-message more easily, than in Taiwan, where speaking settings are more spontaneous. People might have been polite and positive, but the KMT is pro-China, not pro-Japan, and nothing Ma can do will change that; indeed, the last time Ma was in Japan, he was grilled for being anti-Japanese, as the article observes.

Ma’s proposals are also completely bogus. As China scholar Arthur Waldron pointed out in a letter to the Taipei Times yesterday, if Ma wants to raise defense to 3% of GDP, all he has to do is command his party to pass the legislation, for the KMT and its allies control the legislature. Ma in fact said this in February of 2006 during his trip to England — yet no progress has been made on the issue in the 20 subsequent months. There is nothing to stop Ma from keeping this commitment, except, of course, that he doesn’t really mean it — it is a claim intended purely for foreign consumption, as is par for the course for Ma trips overseas. In any case the DPP is also committed to a 3% level….

….and Ma’s free trade proposal is old news — the 30th East Asian Economic Conference proposed that five years ago, and that was hardly the first time for that idea to surface either. Ma staying on-message means simply repeating stuff that foreigners like to hear. In its way, the lack of freshness in Ma’s approach is almost an insult to his audience.

Frank Hsieh is due for a trip to Japan next month. I’m sure we’ll hear good things; Hsieh studied there.

Meanwhile, as is the pattern for Ma, he announced his policy that he would not negotiate to annex the island to China if elected head honcho:

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said yesterday that he will not negotiate with China on unification if elected president.

Ma made the remarks when meeting with members of the Japan-ROC Diet Members’ Consultative Council in Tokyo, the Central News Agency reported.

The council, better known as the Nikkakon (日華懇談會), is made up of senior Japanese politicians across party lines and has been the main channel of communication between Taiwan and Japan since the two countries cut diplomatic ties in 1972.

During the meeting, Ma said he would pursue a policy of “no unification, no independence and no armed conflicts” if elected next year.

The presidential candidate said he would neither hold unification negotiations with China, nor support independence for Taiwan.

Ma said he would maintain the “status quo” in cross-strait relations, but would seek to negotiate with China on “normalizing economic ties, signing a peace treaty and increasing Taiwan’s presence in the international community.”

The presidential hopeful added that he would ask China to dismantle the ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan before attempting any peace negotiations.

Ma often saves “policy” announcements for foreign trips, because the foreign media is listening at that time. At home his statements get attacked by his opponents and by his party allies, exposing holes and dampening their value and “confusing” the media. He knows that the missile issue plays well with foreigners; he made the same announcement last year in London, although he backtracked when he got back to Taipei.

Simultaneous with Ma’s visit was a conference on Taiwan-Japan economic relations.

A two-day Taiwan-Japan economic cooperation conference drew to an end Wednesday with both sides agreeing to strengthen exchanges and cooperation over a wide range of fields, including customs, agricultural, fishery and investment affairs.

A spokesman for the Taiwan delegation to the conference said that the two sides have agreed to beef up strategic cooperation and information exchanges in intellectual property rights (IPR) protection.

According to the spokesman, Taiwan promised during the meeting to intensify its crackdown on commercial piracy while Japan offered to arrange for Taiwanese law enforcement officers to study its IPR protection systems and counterfeiting prevention measures.

On the proposal that the two sides establish a substandard foodstuff reporting mechanism, Japan agreed to conduct working-level dialogue with Taiwan in this regard, the spokesman said, adding that Japan also promised to study the feasibility of forging a mechanism for the exchange of public health statistical data.

Also in the Japan times this week was an excellent editorial on the referendum issue…..

Ostensibly, America’s reason for opposing the referendum is that it would intensify tensions across the Taiwan Strait. In fact, at a U.S.—China summit on the sidelines of the last Asia—Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, Chinese President Hu Jintao reportedly told U.S. President George W. Bush that China was opposed to the referendum itself, and even hinted that China might invoke the national anti-secession law, which means military action. That would certainly intensify cross—strait tensions. The veiled threat, though, is largely rhetorical. Calm judgment suggests that the real problem lies elsewhere.

The question at stake is rather simple. If a referendum is actually held next spring, will China use military force? The answer, if put to all schools of China experts including pro-China ones, invariably would be “no.”

With China hosting the next Olympics, it is simply inconceivable for that country to resort to force if Taiwan, instead of making a formal declaration of independence, just changed its name from the Republic of China to Taiwan in its annual membership application to the United Nations. If so, then what compelled Hu to drop the dark hint, and what is his real motive?

To Chen and his supporters, the purpose of the referendum is clear: Having voters reaffirm their Taiwanese identity and thereby bring electoral gains to the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). In opinion polls asking “Do you consider yourself Taiwanese or Chinese?,” an overwhelming majority say Taiwanese. So it is a foregone conclusion that most people will prefer the name of “Taiwan,” not China, in its application for U.N. membership.

In democratic elections everywhere, political parties devise their own methods for campaigns. As long as the campaigns are lawfully carried out, outsiders should stay on the sidelines.

What China wants to see may well be the opposite of what the DPP wants to achieve. Beijing wants the Nationalist Party (KMT) to win in the next presidential election, so it is trying indirectly to promote the KMT, because U.S. opposition to the referendum hurts the Democratic Progressives while helping the Nationalists.

What happened four years ago comes to mind. Following public protests of the referendum from both the U.S. and Japan, Peng Ming-min, senior adviser to the Taiwanese president, told me during a visit here, “If Chen Shui—bian loses in the presidential election, it will be because of interference from America and Japan.” It turned out that the DPP won a razor-thin majority.

In effect, the U.S. was, and is, interfering in Taiwan’s elections between the KMT and the DPP in ways that favor the former. This seems to be the inevitable conclusion given that the possibility of tensions escalating through the use of force is virtually nil.

For the Fukuda administration, the right course to follow is to stick with the policy of the previous administration, no matter what China says or does.

The people of Taiwan are our neighbors who have a deep affinity and close feelings of good will toward Japan. At a time when they are trying to run their country as democratically as Japan, it is unconscionable for the Japanese to betray these feelings. Moreover, Japan has no legal or moral reasons for doing so. After all, interference in the internal affairs of other countries is strictly prohibited among modern states.

China may say that Taiwan represents its internal affair, but by asking foreign countries to interfere, China is tacitly admitting that Taiwan is more than just an internal affair.

…..along with this interesting article that revealed that South Korea and the Republic of China both urged the US to keep Okinawa nuke-filled in the interests of their security:

The documents, found at the U.S. National Archives by Yasuko Kono, a professor of Japanese political and diplomatic history at Hosei University in Tokyo, show that some of the well-known U.S. reluctance in those days to return Okinawa without keeping its forces there nuclear-capable was in part due to demands from Seoul and Taipei, which at the time faced threats from the Soviet Union, China and North Korea.

Despite the South Korean and Taiwanese objections and the U.S. reluctance, Okinawa was returned to Japan in 1972 after Prime Minister Eisaku Sato and U.S. President Richard Nixon agreed on Nov. 21, 1969, on its return with the U.S. giving up the right to use military bases in the prefecture as it saw fit, including maintaining atomic arsenals, as was the case during the occupation period.