Taiwan won't collude with China on East China Sea: DPP heavyweight
TAIPEI -- Taiwan's incoming Democratic Progressive Party-led government would never align with Beijing against Japan in their dispute over the East China Sea islands that all three sides lay claim to, says former Premier Frank Hsieh, who is slated to serve as Taipei's next de facto ambassador to Tokyo.
Poised to return to power, the DPP is showing a renewed appreciation for Taiwan's traditionally warm relationship with Japan, even as China tries to deter the independence-leaning party from going too far.
Hsieh, himself educated in Kyoto, told the Nikkei that heconsiders Japan to be the "closest nation in terms of popular sentiment "and says its cross strait policy is "notanti-China, "Taiwan is able to "function as a buffer, a safety valve "between the two East Asian nations.
When she takes office as president in May, DPP leader Tsai Ing-wen is set to officially appoint former DPP chief Hsieh to head the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Japan.
Excerpts from the interview follow.
Q: What would be the significance of a DPP heavyweight such as yourself becoming Taiwan's representative in Japan?
A: That's for Ms. Tsai to say. But I think it would have symbolic meaning in two ways. First, it would say that Taiwan places great importance on its relationship with Japan. In addition, the fact that the representative wouldn't be a diplomat would signify that there is no need for adversarial negotiations going forward.
Q: Japan and Taiwan have an ongoing dispute over the Senkaku Islands (known as the Diaoyutai in Taiwan). Some have expressed concern that China and Taiwan may work together on this issue.
A: Our stance remains that the Diaoyutai are Taiwanese territory. But the issue of fishing rights has been mostly resolved by a Japan-Taiwan agreement, and the sovereignty issue ought not to harm our partnership with Japan.
Taiwan and the mainland each have their own individual sovereignty claims. There is no way that we would cooperate on them.
Q: Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has called for an apology from Japan over the issue of wartime "comfort women." How does the DPP stand on this?
A: Like the Diaoyutai, this is a delicate issue that stirs the emotions of some social activists and members of the public. We hope some kind of action is taken, be it an apology or compensation, for the historical victims. That is one of the DPP's principles. But we should not inflame the issue ourselves or let it hurt relations between Taiwan and Japan.
Q: Can the two sides resolve their disagreement over the import restrictions that Taiwan imposed on food from some parts of Japan after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster?
A: Taiwan had a number of recent food sanitation problems, such as cases of waste oil being mixed into food. Heightened public awareness of this sort of problem forms part of the background to the import restrictions. But five years have passed since the disaster. We need to have scientific evidence of safety with respect to traceability, the presence of radioactive contaminants, and so forth. But if there is no contamination, I think [the restrictions] will gradually be lifted.
Q: Beijing is afraid of Taiwan making moves toward independence.
A: Ms. Tsai's cross-strait policy is to preserve a stable status quo. It is not anti-China. Given its location between Japan and the mainland, Taiwan can function as a buffer zone, a safety valve. Maintaining the status quo in itself contributes to security and order in the Asia-Pacific region.
The fact that there has been no direct warfare involving Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the mainland in the past few decades has enabled economic development. My personal view is that we must defend peace with all our strength.
Q: When the DPP last governed in 2000-08, then-President Chen Shui-bian's radically pro-independence tendencies created friction in relations with the U.S.
A: That sort of thing is never going to happen this time. The U.S. does not want to see an unexpected situation break out. It wants conditions to remain predictable. Our relationship with Japan is the most important for us in Asia. Our relationship with the U.S. is our most important in the world. We hope that the U.S. will help Taiwan join the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
A: I understand that Japanese people have mixed emotions [about the deal]. But Sharp would probably have struggled to preserve its brand had it been acquired by another major Japanese electronics company. I am very glad that Hon Hai has promised to rebuild that brand, maintain jobs, prevent technology leak, and so on. With international competition intensifying, I think we will see even more examples of cooperation between Taiwanese and Japanese companies.
Q: Since the earthquakes in Kumamoto in southwestern Japan, there has been an outpouring of donations and other support from Taiwan.
A: Japan-Taiwan relations were already close, but through the experience of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, the earthquake in southern Taiwan in February, and now the Kumamoto quakes, we have built on our mutual aid relationship and deepened our bonds. I think a relationship this friendly is hard to find anywhere in the world.
Japan is an important partner for Taiwan in security in Asia and, at the same time, our closest nation in terms of popular sentiment. I believe we can become a community that shares a common destiny.
Interviewed by Nikkei staff writers Kensaku Ihara and Wu Liling