Japan and Taiwan Officials To Hold Security Talks Over Joint China Threat

Ruling party officials from Japan and Taiwan are set to convene for bilateral talks that will feature joint security concerns for the first time amid China's military and "gray-zone" coercion directed at both countries, according to a Japan Times report on Wednesday.

The semi-official dialogue—which will be held virtually at Japan's request—will involve representatives from Japan's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). It could take place as soon as this month, the report said.

Masahisa Sato and Taku Otsuka, the respective directors of the LDP's Foreign Affairs and National Defense divisions, will join the talks "to discuss ways to promote exchanges between Japan and Taiwan, in addition to security issues," the paper said.

Taiwan's participants had yet to be finalized, the report added.

In a separate bulletin, Fuji News Network said the Japanese party officials would meet with a DPP lawmaker serving in Taiwan's legislator.

Taiwan's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Joanne Ou told Newsweek: "In principle, we welcome the deepening of exchanges between Taiwan's lawmakers and the main political parties and legislators of like-minded countries, but on the basis of administrative neutrality, I won't comment on any subject matter or specific meetings between political parties."

DPP spokesperson Hsieh Pei-fen said the meeting was still in the planning stages, and that more details would be released if and when available.

Taiwan's ruling party has actively engaged with major parties in different countries throughout the pandemic, she told Newsweek in a statement on Thursday. "We will continue to promote more cooperation and dialogue."

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Like most countries in the world, Japan has no official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, despite maintaining strong cultural and economic ties with the island. But unlike the U.S., Japan is not typically viewed as one of Taipei's security partners.

In recent months, however, Japanese officials have called attention to China's escalating military pressure against Taiwan, which the Chinese government claims is a wantaway province.

Last month, Taiwan made a notable appearance in the Japanese Defense Ministry's annual white paper, alongside concerns about the Chinese coast guard's record intrusions in and around the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands. In remarks made at an informal setting, Japan's Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso described a Chinese invasion of Taiwan as a potential "existential threat" to Japan.

The planned bilateral talks could be an interesting development, "especially given the potential for substantive rather than simply symbolic outcomes," said Corey Wallace, an assistant professor and a researcher of Japanese security politics at Kanagawa University.

"Sato and Otsuka have both previously held deputy and vice-minister roles, so they are no chumps," he said, adding: "As no one with any current cabinet or top-level bureaucratic roles are involved, it is no issue with regard to Japan's One China policy."

Wallace noted the use of party links as "an informal way to get around sometimes severe diplomatic and domestic sensitivities that would make official government action difficult."

He also pointed to probable influence behind the scenes by former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was among the attendees of a U.S.-Japan-Taiwan Trilateral Strategic Dialogue on July 29.

Wednesday's reports come one week after Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen sat for an interview on August 10 with Japanese magazine Bungeishunju, during which she thanked Tokyo for its recent concern, support and vaccine assistance, while expressing her desire to establish a dialogue mechanism for security matters in East Asia.

"Taiwan is willing to assume responsibility for defending regional peace," she said.

China, which has voiced opposition to any official and unofficial exchanges with Taiwan, is likely to lodge fresh diplomatic protests with Japan.

Update (8/18/21, 10:15 p.m. ET): This article was updated with additional comment from Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Update (8/19/21, 2:00 a.m. ET): This article was updated with comments from Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party.

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