The Kaohsiung Declaration: A New Era in Taiwan-Japan Relations

The Kaohsiung Declaration: A New Era in Taiwan-Japan Relations

The Kaohsiung Declaration: A New Era in Taiwan-Japan Relations

Leaders from Japan and Taiwan met earlier this summer at the Fourth Summit on Taiwan-Japan Exchange (台日交流高峰會), during which they proclaimed the “Kaohsiung Declaration“—a promise to further cultural and political ties between Taipei and Tokyo. This year’s summit held on July 7th included 323 Japanese members and 118 Taiwanese councilors for a discussion on promoting people-to-people exchange and economic cooperation, among other public policy issues. Kaohsiung City Council Speaker Kang Yu-cheng (康裕成) and Taiwanese Premier William Lai (賴清德) addressed the summit, advocating for increased mutual assistance during periods of natural disaster as well as expansion of non-government exchanges and support platforms to promote Taiwan’s participation in international organizations such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Although merely a routine event, this year’s summit provides insight into how closer ties between Japan and Taiwan are mutually beneficial for the ongoing prosperity of both nations.

Cultural Exchange

Since the election of President Tsai Ing-wen, the world has witnessed a steady shift in Japanese attitude toward Taiwan. Diplomatically, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Tsai have enjoyed close personal ties, even during the period leading up to Tsai’s victory. Shortly after the election, Prime Minister Abe, in an “unprecedented move,” sent a congratulatory message to President Tsai, referring to Taiwan as “an old friend” and noting that this win further emphasized the strength of Taiwan’s democracy. This approach was reciprocated the following year, when Tsai congratulated Abe on his party’s success in their October 2017 parliamentary elections.

Japan has historically been wary of aligning itself against Communist China, choosing in 1972 to diplomatically recognize the People’s Republic of China (PRC) by adopting its own version of a “One China” policy. Notably, although the Japanese government did indeed acknowledge the PRC’s stance that Taiwan is an inalienable part the PRC, Tokyo did not adopt this affirmation as its own position. Thanks to this distinction, Japan and Taiwan have retained the ability to maintain relations without the need for formal diplomatic recognition. [1]

Cultural exchange has played a large role in strengthening relations between Japan and Taiwan. Since 2016, both nations have mutually embraced each other’s cultures through a variety of diplomatic measures. Similar to the summit at Kaohsiung, at the annual Taiwan-Japan Tourism forum in Taichung in June, both sides agreed to a goal of 7 million two-way tourist exchanges by 2019. Japanese tourism in Taiwan has existed for decades, with 1.89 million Japanese people visiting Taiwan in 2016. In addition to the obvious advantages of a Taiwan vacation, such as short travel time and cheaper commodities, Japanese tourists have noted that shared cultural aspects make Taiwan a comfortable place to visit. For instance, Kanji, one of the three written scripts in Japanese, closely resembles Traditional Chinese characters, so visitors from Japan find it relatively easy to get around.

In addition to tourism, Taiwan and Japan are collaborating to develop educational opportunities. The Taiwan-Japan Relations Association [2] in 2015 established the Taiwan Cultural Center in Tokyo, where Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture regularly holds events and exhibitions. The center works closely with local Japanese universities such as Aichi University and Kyoto University to organize film festivals and art fairs. Similarly, in November 2017, a Japanese cultural center officially opened its doors in Taipei. The center, which is operated by Tokyo’s Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association [3], aims to foster greater understanding of Japanese society with tourism information, collaboration and exhibition space, and a 20,000-volume library.

The two countries have also utilized more formal diplomatic measures to further enhance relations; the Taiwan-Japan Economic and Trade Conference, which became an annual tradition beginning in 1976, is an example of this. Similar to Kaohsiung and other previous tourism events, this summit provided an opportunity to discuss changes and developments in cultural exchange programs. In addition, this annual conference takes the time to discuss more serious matters relating to politics and security. During the 2017 annual meeting, two Memorandums of Understanding aimed at boosting collaboration on customs enforcement and cultural exchange were signed in Tokyo. Under the customs enforcement agreement, authorities from both nations agreed to work to combat smuggling and streamline clearance processes through information-sharing platforms and expertise. Such an accord is expected to strengthen the already expansive trade ties between Taiwan and Japan.

The Taiwan Strait Question

Since 2016, Japan and Taiwan have worked to encourage maritime cooperation throughout the Taiwan Strait in a way that further promotes regional security. Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs helped to organize an official dialogue on maritime affairs in December 2017, with representatives from each nation’s de facto Embassy, Coast Guard, and Ministries of Science and Technology and Foreign Affairs. The meeting was set to establish a framework for cooperation on important maritime issues such as securing trade routes, reinforcing environmental protection efforts, and reviewing standard operating procedures for rescue and law enforcement operations.

Of particular concern to both parties is trade, and the Taiwan Strait represents a crucial pathway for economic exchange. In 2017, Japan accounted for 16.17 percent of Taiwanese trade, second only to the PRC. On the Japanese side, PLA studies show that Japan receives 90 percent of its oil imports, 99 percent of its mineral resources, and 100 percent of its nuclear fuel from ships that travel through this waterway. [4] Therefore, it would be prudent for leadership from both nations to continue to promote open and navigable waters throughout the Taiwan Strait.

The “Taiwan Strait Question” is a significant one for both trade and security concerns. Japan and Taiwan arguably view each other as strategic partners in the contest with increasingly aggressive Chinese maneuvers in the South and East China Seas. As two thriving democracies in the Indo-Pacific, Taiwan and Japan both have a vested interest in not only ensuring peace in the region, but also in putting pressure on the PRC when international norms and regulations are violated. In the instance of further Chinese aggression in the Taiwan Strait or neighboring waters, Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines would all be made vulnerable to Chinese naval blockades or air assaults. [5]

Looking forward, it is arguably in the best interests of both nations to continue their push for improved relations. For Taiwan, Japan has the ability to push for Taiwan’s inclusion on the international stage. William Lai, at the recent Kaohsiung meeting, said he looked forward to speaking with representatives from the Japanese government about Taiwan’s longstanding bid to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). For Japan, relations with Taiwan will continue to help Tokyo economically and militarily, as the Japanese government continues to prioritize peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and neighboring waters. From the United States perspective, increased collaboration between two democracies in East Asia is a positive development. Prime Minister Abe’s ambitious belief in establishing a “ring of democracies” to encircle Communist China may be improbable in the near-term; however, Cold War realism saw the the United States aligning with other democracies in order to balance against the Soviet Union. [6] Who is to say whether or not a similar event could unfold?

The main point: The recent increase in cultural, diplomatic, and economic exchanges since the election of President Tsai Ing-wen, as made evident by the July 2018 Kaohsiung Declaration, suggests that Japan may be more willing to challenge China’s influence in the coming decades.

[1] Japan’s current relationship with Taiwan can be more accurately explained through the framework of “The Status Quo School” from a testimony given by Mark Stokes of the Project 2049 Institute before the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs on April 17, 2018.

[2] The Taiwan-Japan Relations Association acts as Taiwan’s de facto Embassy in Japan.

[3] The Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association acts as Japan’s de facto Embassy in Taiwan.

[4] Ian Easton, The Chinese Invasion Threat: Taiwan’s Defense and American Strategy in Asia, (Arlington, VA, Project 2049 Institute, 2017), 25.

[5] Easton, The Chinese Invasion Threat, 241.

[6] John J. Mearsheimer, “A Realist Reply,” International Security 19 (1994), 82.