Japan Ruling Party Lawmakers Back Taiwan Joining Trade Pact

Lawmakers from Japan’s ruling party backed Taiwan’s entry into a Pacific trade pact meant to counter China’s influence, in the latest effort by Tokyo to bolster the democratically ruled island. 

Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers pledged to support Taiwan’s addition to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership during first-of-their-kind security talks with Taiwanese counterparts Friday. They also called on Taipei to help ensure that semiconductor giant Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. picks Japan as a site for a manufacturing hub, LDP lawmaker Taku Otsuka said. 

“Taiwan’s early participation in TPP is extremely important,” said Otsuka, who heads the LDP’s defense committee. “We told them that we would like to support it.” 

Taiwanese Lawmaker Lo Chih-cheng, of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, said the island would demonstrate a strong will to participate, echoing a long-held position by the party’s standard-bearer, President Tsai Ing-wen. 

Japan Ruling Party Lawmakers Back Taiwan Joining Trade Pact

While a formal nod from Japan wouldn’t guarantee Taiwan’s entry into the 11-nation trade pact formally known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, it could improve the odds. Japan played a leading role in brokering the agreement after former President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from talks in 2017, and the Asian nation boasts the largest economy in the bloc. 

Other members, however, might be wary of angering Chinese President Xi Jinping by agreeing to something he would likely view as a step toward formal recognition of the rival government in Taipei. The Communist Party views Taiwan as part of its territory, even though it has never controlled the island, and requires diplomatic partners to renounce formal ties with Taipei. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian criticized the LDP-DPP talks Friday, saying that Taiwan’s status “concerns the political foundation” of Beijing’s relationship with Tokyo. 

“Japan bears historical responsibility and crimes on the issue, which underscores the importance to act prudently,” Zhao said, in reference to Japan’s colonization of Taiwan before World War Two. “We urge Japan to stop interfering in China’s internal affairs and refrain from sending any wrong signals to ‘Taiwan independence’ forces.”

The addition of Taiwan would further complicate Beijing’s own long-shot bid to join the CPTPP. China has held preliminary talks about entering the agreement, fueling new calls in the U.S. for President Joe Biden to get back into the bloc.

Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga affirmed the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait during Suga’s visit to the White House in April -- the first mention of the island in such a joint statement since both countries switched formal relations from Taipei to Beijing in the 1970s.

Japanese cabinet members and ruling party figures have stepped up support for Taiwan amid concerns over China’s clampdown in Hong Kong. Taiwan has become an increasingly important topic for the U.S. and its allies like Japan, many of whom are concerned about China’s growing assertiveness around an island whose semiconductor industry has become a linchpin of the global supply chain.

Masahisa Sato, chair of the LDP’s foreign affairs committee, told his Taiwanese counterparts it was becoming more important for the two sides to strengthen defense ties. Sato said China has unilaterally changed the status quo in the region, affecting not only the security of the Taiwan Strait but also Japan. The two sides have agreed to hold the meetings regularly, he told reporters. 

In July, lawmakers from the U.S., Taiwan and Japan held trilateral online talks, which were dismissed by China’s foreign ministry as “negative and wrong in both form and content.”

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