Japan has maintained its unofficial ties with Taiwan through their consulates in Taipei and Kaohsiung.


The apparent is seldom real in diplomacy. This truth manifests itself best in Japan’s ties with Taiwan. Last month, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Kato Katsunobu said at a press conference, his country’s basic policy “is to maintain working relations with Taiwan at the nongovernment level”. At the same conference, Japanese Foreign Minister Motegi Toshimitsu referred to Taiwan as “a region”. But the reality is far different.

As in the past. Japan remains committed to Taiwan’s security today. The new draft of Japan’s white paper says that “the stability of the situation surrounding Taiwan is important for the security of Japan and the stability of the international community”.

In his recent summit meeting with US President Joe R. Biden, Jr., Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide reaffirmed Japan’s commitment to Taiwan’s security. Suga said that he and Biden both recognised “the importance of peace and stability of the Taiwan Straits”. Japan recognizes Taiwan as a virtually independent county.

In his first one-on-one parliamentary debate with opposition leaders on June 9, Premier Suga referred to Taiwan as a country. In doing so, Suga did not care about any possible reaction from Beijing which regards the self-ruled island as its “inalienable part”.

Also, Japan has of late stepped up efforts to include Taiwan in multiple forums. In its Diplomatic Bluebook, presented to Japan’s Cabinet by Foreign Minister Motegi Toshimitsu, Tokyo has voiced its support for inviting Taiwan into World Health Assembly. Last month, the upper house of Japan’s Diet adopted a resolution calling on the World Health Organization to include Taiwan in its general meetings. It did not care that China has so far blocked the move.

Japan’s ties with Taiwan are rooted in history. In 1972, Japan recognised the People’s Republic of China (mainland China) as the sole representative of the Chinese nation. Subsequently, Japan severed its diplomatic ties with Taiwan. But Tokyo has always remained sensitive to Taiwan’s defence as an independent nation. In 1998, then Prime Minister Obuchi Keizo refused to endorse US President Bill Clinton’s “three no’s’policy“. Clinton’s three no’s policy stated that the US did not support independence for Taiwan, or “one China, one Taiwan”, or “two Chinas”, or its membership in any international bodies whose members are sovereign states.

Besides, Japan has maintained its unofficial ties with Taiwan through their consulates (also known as Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association, earlier known as Interchange Association) in Taipei and Kaohsiung. In 2017, the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association opened Japanese cultural centre in Taipei City. Such mechanisms have yielded great results economically. As of 2019, Japan was Taiwan’s third largest trading partner, while Taiwan was Japan’s fourth largest trading partner. Bilateral trade between the two totalled $67.3 billion. Before the Covid pandemic, the number of tourists from Japan to Taiwan stood at 2 million in 2019. Japanese were the second-largest group of visitors to Taiwan. In 2018, the number of Taiwanese tourists to Japan exceeded 4.6 million.

Also, Tokyo has always rushed to Taipei in cases of any contingency. Recently, Japan donated 1.24 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Taiwan to fight the current pandemic. In April last year, Taiwan donated 2 million face masks to Tokyo to meet its needs to contain the  pandemic.

During the 1999 Jiji earthquake, Japan sent more than 100 rescue workers to Taiwan for relief work. Japanese contribution accounted for 80% of the NT$1.6 billion aid by Red Cross.

Abhijitha Singh, an alumnus of the Department of East Asian Studies, University of Delhi, is specialising in Japanese studies.