Taiwan’s View on China-Japan-U.S. Relations
SAIS/Johns Hopkins University
[Published in the Taipei Times, 8/22/99]
Taiwan As A Historical Convergent Point
In almost 300 years of history, Taiwan has had a very close relationship with China, Japan, and the US. In the Ching Dynasty, China annexed Taiwan as part of its territory in 1683, but was unable to take active control of the island. It was only in 1874, when the Japanese government launched a large-scale punitive expedition to Taiwan, that China woke up to Taiwan’s importance. China formally made Taiwan one of its provinces in 1887, but by then, it was too late to make any difference.
After the Sino-Japanese war, Taiwan was permanently ceded to Japan under the Shimonoseki Treaty of 1895. Given a short period to make a choice, most of the Taiwanese population of the time chose to stay on the island instead of returning to China.
The Japanese ruled Taiwan for a full half-century, during which they exploited much of the island’s natural resources and exercised heavy discrimination against the Taiwanese, both economically and politically. As a Japanese colony, Taiwan’s contribution to Japan’s economic development and military strength was remarkable,
despite heavy resistance by the population and the conflicts that accompanied it. On the other hand, Japan also left behind a basic infrastructure from which Taiwan could benefit, including an educational system and basic industries, paving the way for Taiwan’s rise to the status of a newly-industrialized nation.
At the end of World War II in 1945, the Chinese government represented the Allied forces in the restoration of peace in Taiwan. Four years later, the Kuomintang (KMT) regime lost the civil war and re-established Taiwan as the Republic of China (ROC). With its name changed to the ROC, Taiwan participated in the international community as a sovereign nation. With the advent of the Cold War, Taiwan, as the ROC, set up a military alliance with the US during its first 25 years. Over the next 20 years, the US continued to act as Taiwan's important partner on military, political, and economic fronts, helping Taiwan maintain steady economic growth and undergo gradual pluralization and democratization.
In terms of geopolitics, China, Japan, and the US can be viewed as the three major powers calling the shots in the Asia-Pacific region. Located at the pivot of a “triangle of power”, Taiwan became the bounty sought by China, Japan, and the US. China sees Taiwan as key to expanding its naval domination of the region; Japan see winning Taiwan as a first step to expanding its influence in East Asia; the US sees Taiwan as an “unsinkable aircraft carrier.”
In terms of culture, Taiwan ascends from a maritime culture. As early as two to three thousand years ago, Taiwan already had an aboriginal culture, known as the "old Malayans." Over the past 300 years, Taiwan's culture has evolved to absorb those of
its three major influences: China, Japan, and the US.
As more than 98 percent of Taiwan's residents are of Chinese descent, Taiwan is deeply imbued by China's Confucian culture. After China was devastated by the Cultural Revolution, Taiwan became a "pure land," where traditional Chinese culture is preserved.
Taiwan's older generation grew up with a Japanese education. Even President Lee Teng-hui and former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Peng Ming-min maintain very close ties with Japan.
After WWII, large numbers of Taiwanese students began to go to the US for overseas study. Over the past two decades Taiwan, although a tiny country, has become one of the top sources of foreign students in the US.
In a phenomenon similar to Japan's Sinicization movement in the 7th and 8th Centuries, Taiwanese have been bringing home the world's top-notch technologies from the US. This, of course, also boosted bilateral cultural exchanges. Half of the officials in Taiwan's Cabinet, including President Lee himself, hold doctorates from US universities. Also, US culture has swept Taiwan's streets and alleys with its Hollywood movies, and through Capitalist market channels.
Come the new millennium, developments in Taiwan's relations with China and Japan will not only affect Taiwan's future, but will be key to whether the Asia-Pacific region will be able to walk out of the historical gloom of the 20th Century and
embrace a brilliant future in the next century.
The 20th Century has been an age of revival for China, after more than a hundred years of disgrace, including the Sino-Japanese War, the civil war, and Communist party rule. Despite her rise as a new global power, China is still unable to break free from a mode of thinking wrought by a century of disastrous experiences. This mentality has been the cause of much friction between Taiwan, China, Japan, and the US.
After WWII, Japan re-emerged on the international stage with a fresh new posture. Despite the Limitations imposed on military development, Japanese leaders made good use of early-Cold War contradictions to shirk war responsibility. As a result, after its development into a global economic power, Japan is having difficulty finding a matching political status in the international area.
In the early 1990s, there was a great debate in the US over what role the country should play in the post-Cold War era. The US is still having doubts as to whether it should continue its role as a proactive global leader, or let each country “shovel the snow from its own front gate.”
Over the past half-century, Taiwan has been mellowed by Cold War era experiences and international isolation. Despite its internationally-acclaimed economic miracle and democratization, Taiwan continues to suffer from Chinese military threats and a diplomatic siege. The sovereignty of the ROC can be talked about, but no global power is willing to recognize Taiwan's existence as an
Taiwan's sovereignty issue has its roots in China's, but it is also a predicament created by Japan and the US. Although Taiwan was ceded to Japan in the 19th Century and later gave up that claim, neither the San Francisco Treaty nor the Sino(Taiwan)-Japanese treaties clarified Taiwan's sovereignty issue. On the other hand, direct US interference has saved Taiwan from a life under the People's Republic of China. But it has also strengthened China's view that US support has made the island unwilling to unify with China.
At the dawn of a new century, these four countries are facing different problems which, however, can all be categorized as “Cold War Syndrome.” Japan has not been able to walk out of WWII's shadow; the US wants to redefine its post-Cold War role and China is still groping to find out how to be a new post-Cold War power. Meanwhile, Taiwan hopes to position itself globally and redefine its relations with China.
To establish a peaceful and prosperous 21st Century for the Asia-Pacific region, we first of all need to look at the common interests and differences between theses four countries.
Common Interests of the Four Countries
For each country, the greatest common interest at the beginning of the 21st Century is none other than "peace and development."
Peace is not an extravagant luxury. All four countries have vowed to seek peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. Despite Chiang Kai-shek's continual emphasis on “retaking the mainland,” Taiwan already gave up the use of force against the mainland after the mid-1950's. Following its economic development and democratization, maintaining a peaceful international environment, or at least defusing China's military threats, has become one of Taiwan's top objectives. For Japan, whose military actions have long been restricted by its "peaceful constitution," even a slightly unstable international environment can impact upon Japan's business operations around the world. The US, also free from its Cold War conflict, hopes to develop a new world order with free trade and no war. Ever since China's economic reforms began in 1978, the name of the game for all contemporary Chinese leaders has been “peace and development,” no longer "anti-imperialism" and "world
Development is another common interest among the four. Economic
liberalization and globalization have linked the US, Japan, Taiwan and China in an inseparable network of labor division. Currently, the US, Japan and China are Taiwan's top three trade partners. Japan, China and Taiwan are among the US's top seven trade partners. The US, China, and Taiwan are also among Japan's top four trade partners. What is more, each of the four countries have a role to play in a meticulous economic network: the US and Japan provide capital and high tech know-how to Taiwan, while Taiwan exports semi-finished products, management and capitalist experience to China, makes use of China's cheap labor for manufacturing and then re-exports the products to markets like the US and Japan. Even more
noteoworthy is that trade relation between the four countries are largely shaped by mutual investments. China's foreign capital resources are a case in point. Taiwan, Japan and the US are China's top three sources of the foreign capital excluding Hong Kong. Once a link is broken in this chain of intense trade relations, all other countries will be seriously affected.
A mutually dependent international trade and economic mechanism means each of these four world players can no longer hope to be immune from the impact of incidents occurring in their trade partners. Over the past ten years, for example, whenever there was an argument in the US about giving “most favored nation” (MFN)
status to China, business tycoons from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the US lobbied the US government on China's behalf. Right after serious military and diplomatic confrontation between Taiwan and China in 1995-6, Jeffery Koo, a KMT business magnate in Taiwan also lobbied the US government. It was a sign not of mental derangement but of mutual benefit and common interest.
Another example is the Asian financial crisis that erupted more than two year ago. Southeast Asian nations are now still bogged down in the quagmire left by the crisis; Japan is also trying hard to recover. This crisis placed the US and China in the same camp when both denounced the Japanese government's lackluster recovery policies and demanded Japan to stabilize the yen --- and even to intervene on the exchange rate. A third example is that both Japan and the US are taking the same position in China’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) asking China to liberalize its markets and open up investment in tertiary industries.
Differences and Confrontation
Despite a definite consensus on "peace and development," cooperation between the four countries has been complicated by sovereignty disputes, arguments over Japan's war responsibilities, and mutual suspicion over security issues. A slight indiscretion is all that's needed to set off a serious military confrontation, as can be seen in the aftermath of President Lee Teng-hui's recent redefinition of cross-strait relations with China.
Taiwan tops the list of sovereignty disputes in the region, followed by the Tiaoyutai Islands (called the Senkaku islands by the Japanese) and rights in the South China Sea.
Ever since it was ceded to Japan in 1895, Taiwan has existed separately from China except for four brief years of Chinese rule. Taiwan has been an independent sovereignty for almost fifty years since the ROC was reestablished on the island in 1949. But to this day, the Chinese remain unwilling to renounce the use of force against Taiwan. It continues to pressure Taiwan on unification by laying diplomatic siege to the island. In fact, the Chinese proposal bears little difference from annexation, which the Taiwanese find totally unacceptable. Therefore, China's hostile policy toward Taiwan has become a source of instability in the Asia-Pacific region. For example, China staged missile tests near Taiwan in 1995 and 1996, firing them directly into areas within less than 50 km from Taiwan's two major sea ports. The missile tests posed a serious threat to peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, prompting the US to send out two aircraft carrier fleets to
safeguard the seas around Taiwan. This in turn prompted China to assert its need for a strong naval and air presence to counter US interference in the Taiwan Strait. These developments have again driven Taiwan, Southeast Asian nations and Japan to join the arms race with China. This vicious circle of developments is very likely to turn Asia into an arms stockpile.
After 1996, the dispute over the Tiaoyutai Island began to escalate between Japan, Taiwan, and China, all of which lay claim to them. Here again, a slight indiscretion could lead to serious conflict between the three countries. Even though the US and Japan have no sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, both have a common interest in the area's international shipping lanes. Japan relies on the Middle East for 70 percent of its crude oil supplies, which is shipped through the South China Sea. And of course, the same is true with crude oil supplies for Taiwan. After 1993, China became a net oil importer with its most oil supplies from the Middle East. The conflicts over this region will have fatal threat to the economic growth of these countries.
Japan's war responsibilities are also another major issue. For strategic considerations, Japan did not formally apologize to Asian countries after the Cold War began. Besides, Japan also took advantage of China's civil war to pressure both Chiang Kai-shek's and Mao Zedong's regimes to renounce their claims to war reparations from Japan. Also, Japan has ducked the issue of compensating Taiwanese and South Korean "comfort women," forced to work for soldiers as sex slaves during WWII. Perhaps more serious, revisions in Japan's school curriculum concerning WWII historical fact, and official ceremonies at the Yasukuni shrine,
honoring Japan's war dead, including those considered by the rest of the world to be war criminals, have also caused unease and suspicion in China and other countries.
On the other hand, the continuing insults and harangues from China about Japan's war responsibilities have created a strong anti-Chinese sentiment within Japan's younger generation, who feel that they should not suffer endless humiliation for wrongs committed by the older generation.
The issues cited serve to aggravate mutual suspicion. Over the past four years, for example, the US and Japan have been hoping to strengthen their post-Cold War security cooperation. Even though the cooperation was intended to counter North Korea's nuclear threat, China interpreted the partnership as an alliance against it.
But it is also worth noting that after China rattled peace and stability in the Asai-Pacific region in 1995 and 1996, the issue naturally became an important topic in the US-Japan summit of April 1996. However, China continued to claim that the Taiwan issue is an internal affair that allows no foreign interference.
This stands in stark contrast to China's reaction to US-Japan cooperation. In August last year, North Korea raised eyebrows in Japan and the US with its missile tests. In September, Japan and the US agreed to cooperate on a Theater Missile Defense system (TMD). China sees this move as "siege" that will set China on an arms race with Japan and the US. This is because China is worried that its missiles, currently the only effective threat against Taiwan, will lose their cutting edge once Taiwan comes under the umbrella of TMD. This in turn compels China to develop