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International relations

Japan lawmakers want 'Taiwan Relations Act' of their own

Legislation to counter China's new coast guard law also floated

A Taiwanese fighter at an air base in Tainan: Some Japanese legislators want a law similar to the Taiwan Relations Act in the U.S.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Legislators from Japan's ruling party called for a new law on Friday similar to the Taiwan Relations Act in the U.S., looking to help Taipei defend itself amid  Beijing's repeated incursions into Taiwan's airspace.

Chinese planes have entered Taiwan's southwestern air defense identification zone almost daily since U.S. President Joe Biden took office Jan. 20. Multiple Chengdu J-10 and Shenyang J-11 fighter jets entered the zone on Sunday.

"Tensions have not subsided," Masahisa Sato, head of the Liberal Democratic Party's Foreign Affairs Division, said in a meeting with party members on Friday.

Sato announced the establishment of a "Taiwan project team," which he will lead, to discuss policies related to the island and how Japan can coordinate with the U.S. in the security field. Its inaugural meeting could come next week. 

One idea that emerged at Friday's meeting was to have legislation similar to the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, which the U.S. Congress passed to coincide with Washington's establishment of diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China. The act let Americans and Taiwanese maintain substantial, though not diplomatic, relations.

Though the U.S. abrogated its mutual defense treaty with Taipei, the law committed Washington to providing the island with equipment and services needed to defend itself. The 1979 act also declared that the establishment of diplomatic relations with Beijing "rests upon the expectation that the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means." It gave special powers to the American Institute of Taiwan that let it operate as the de facto embassy.

At the LDP meeting, members also proposed a 2-plus-2 dialogue among the foreign and defense ministers of Japan and Taiwan.

Like the U.S., Japan does not have official diplomatic relations with the island. Tokyo relies instead on communication between Taiwanese lawmakers and the LDP's Youth Division, as well as a nonpartisan parliamentarians union.

"Taiwan policy is a difficult area for the Japanese government," said Sato,  suggesting that parliamentarians should step up and lead the exchange with Taiwanese counterparts. "We need to consider exchanges between our lawmakers as we move forward."

China's aggressive new coast guard law has sparked calls for Japan to allow rapid deployment of the Maritime Self-Defense Force in response.   © Kyodo

On Wednesday, the LDP Foreign Affairs Division debuted a separate project team covering diplomacy and human rights, which will discuss China's crackdown in Hong Kong and against its Uighur minority in the Xinjiang region.

"We want to bolster our diplomatic prowess through a two-pronged approach, using our human rights and Taiwan project teams," Sato said.

Meanwhile at the LDP's National Defense Division, director Taku Otsuka sought a discussion of potential legal responses to China's new coast guard law, which elevated the patrol force to quasi-military status and allows it to fire on foreign vessels.

Some LDP members want new legislation allowing for rapid deployment of Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force, concerned that the Japan Coast Guard alone cannot respond to rising Chinese activity near the Senkaku Islands. The Japan-administered chain is claimed by China as the Diaoyu.

"There is concern that there are gaps in Japan's current legal framework, and we want to look into this," Otsuka told reporters.

 Additional reporting by Junnosuke Kobara in Tokyo.

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