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China slams Japanese lawmakers' Taiwan bill

Publication Date : 21-02-2014


In a move set to worsen already fraught Sino-Japanese ties, a group of Japanese lawmakers is drafting a bill that will lay the legal basis for closer ties with Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province.

The bill, said to be modelled on the United States' 1979 Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), a law based on which the US has been selling arms to Taiwan to counter China's military threat, has drawn fierce opposition from the Chinese foreign ministry. It comes amid warming political ties between Beijing and Taipei.

"We express grave concern about the move," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chun-ying at a regular press briefing on Wednesday.

"The Taiwan question concerns China's fundamental interests. It also concerns the political foundation of China-Japan ties in handling Japan-Taiwan relations," she added.

But experts say the bill is unlikely to be passed, given the strain it will place on Sino-Japanese ties.

This is not the first time such a law has been mooted. Then Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian called for one in 2006, with specific reference to security.

The current bill is proposed by a group of right-wing lawmakers from the Liberal Democratic Party led by Nobuo Kishi, a senior vice-foreign minister and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's younger brother.

Details of the bill, to lay "the legal basis for strengthening economic relations and personal exchanges with Taiwan", are unclear. They are expected to be worked out in the months ahead.

Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said last year that Japan-Taiwan ties are based on "our shared fundamental values of democracy, freedom and peace".

Still, the bill will be closely watched to see if it includes security elements or a pledge of assistance should Taiwan and China go to war - both found in the TRA and likely to incense the Chinese.

But the TRA does not recognise Taiwan as a sovereign state.

Jiang Yuechun of the China Institute of International Studies said the bill "is clearly an interference with China's sovereignty and is a challenge to Beijing because Tokyo knows China's stand on the Taiwan issue is very clear".

The final bill could be a hard version making a security commitment to Taiwan and including the possibility of weapon sales or a softer one calling for stronger economic and people-to-people exchanges, Dr Li Mingjiang of Nanyang Technological University told The Straits Times.

"A softer version is more likely but even that is a provocation," he added. "The Japanese want to send a message that it has diplomatic cards to play, but it's an unnecessary provocation, given how bad relations are now."

Sino-Japanese ties have been strained since a territorial spat erupted over an island group in the East China Sea and by what Beijing sees as Tokyo's failure to atone for its militaristic past.

Japan has no diplomatic ties with Taiwan and has recognised the one-China policy since 1972.

Professor Satoshi Amako of Waseda University said the bill is unlikely to be passed as it does not represent mainstream Japanese politics.

But he added: "It's very dangerous to have such a bill or to even talk about it as it promotes more mutual dislike between both countries."

Jiang cautioned that Abe's track record, such as his recent visit to the contentious Yasukuni Shrine, shows he is willing to go against China's wishes.

"Abe has already pushed the envelope much further than his predecessors in dealing with China and doesn't seem to care about future relations."


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