Japan’s LDP Builds Political ‘Pipeline’ to Taiwan

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, right, speaks as Liberal Democratic Party Vice President Taro Aso looks on in Taipei on Tuesday.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party is taking more assertive steps than in the past to strengthen Japan-Taiwan relations against a backdrop of concerns over a possible Taiwan contingency.

Senior party officials, including LDP Vice President Taro Aso, a former prime minister, have been visiting Taiwan one after another, with the aim of further deepening cooperation in the security and economic fields on behalf of the government, which has no diplomatic ties with Taiwan. The Taiwanese side has high expectations for their visits.

Aso continued his energetic activities in Taiwan on Wednesday, the final day of his visit. In the morning, at a hotel in Taipei, he met with Gou Tai-ming, former chairman of Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., who is a possible independent candidate for the Taiwan presidential election in January next year. The situation of the Taiwan Strait was reportedly among the topics they discussed.

After the meeting, Gou smilingly showed reporters postage stamps depicting characters such as robot cat Doraemon that Aso, who is known for his love of manga, had given him.

The visit, at the invitation of the Taiwan side, was widely reported in the Taiwan media. In a statement, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry welcomed the visit, saying that it would further deepen substantive cooperation between Taiwan and Japan in various fields.

During the series of talks held in his three-day visit to Taiwan, the topics of discussion focused on the security situation in East Asia, with a Taiwan contingency — namely, a scenario in which China invades Taiwan — in mind. In his meeting with Vice President Lai Ching-te on Tuesday, Aso expressed his concern about the current situation in which China is increasing its military pressure, saying, “I’m very worried.”

Aso’s trip was the first visit by a sitting LDP vice president since the breakoff of diplomatic relations between Japan and Taiwan in 1972, as far as can be confirmed by LDP records. Koichi Hagiuda, the chairman of the party’s policy research council, and Hiroshige Seko, the party’s secretary general in the House of Councillors, also visited Taiwan separately in December last year. As the possibility of a Taiwan contingency becomes increasingly realistic, the LDP’s “Taiwan diplomacy” is becoming more active.

Aso asserted the importance of a “readiness to fight” to strengthen deterrence in order to avoid war in the Taiwan Strait in a speech on Tuesday. Within the LDP, there are some voices arguing for the necessity of preparing for a Taiwan contingency. Pointing to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they warn that a similar situation could occur in East Asia.

In his meeting on Tuesday, Aso also noted that there would be a need to evacuate more than 20,000 Japanese residents in the event of a contingency.

In July, a war game to examine issues related to the Japanese government’s response to a Taiwan Strait crisis, which was organized by the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies, was attended by LDP lawmakers and former members of the Self-Defense Forces as well as officials from a Taiwan research institution for the first time. Since there are no diplomatic relations between Tokyo and Taipei, efforts by the LDP and the private sector are essential.

Cooperation with Taiwan is also necessary in the economic sphere. Taiwan has high production capacity in the semiconductor industry. “It is extremely important for Taiwan and Japan to join hands in terms of economic security,” Aso said in Tuesday’s speech.

The LDP Youth Division has long been involved in “Taiwan diplomacy.” The position of director of the division is seen as a potential stepping stone to eventually becoming party president. In addition to Aso, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had held the position.

Opposition party lawmakers also visited Taiwan in July and August. Keiji Furuya of the LDP, chairman of the suprapartisan Japan-Taiwan Diet members’ consultative council, said, “If each political party deepens exchanges with Taiwan, the pipeline between Japan and Taiwan will be further strengthened.”

The LDP intends to continue to build relations as a bridge between the Japan and Taiwan. A Japanese government official said: “It is meaningful for the party to convey messages that the government cannot send out. However, it is also important to strike a balance so as not to give China an excuse to take action.”