Taiwan gave more money to Japan after its triple disaster than any other country. So why did Japan leave Taiwan off the list of nations it thanked? China. If Japan can't stand up to Beijing on such a small matter, what does that mean for US and Japanese security interests in the region?
After Japan’s tragic triple disasters this March, Taiwan, befitting its history of humanitarian concerns, led the world’s response, providing more assistance than any other nation. Taiwan’s contribution ($165 million) surpassed that of the United States ($125 million), South Korea ($19 million), and China ($4 million).
To mark the first month after the earthquake, a Japanese cabinet spokesman announced that “Prime Minister Kan wished to express his gratitude directly to the public of foreign countries for their sympathy and assistance.”
He did so in an advertisement in newspapers in China, Russia, South Korea, and France – but not in Taiwan. An accompanying government statement singled out the United States, China, Australia, Mexico, and Europe for sending help, again without mentioning Taiwan.
Japanese foreign ministry officials said the thank-you list was based not on the magnitude of the donations but, oddly, on “the size of the country and the impact it may have on its neighbor countries.”
Rather, it is widely understood that the Japanese chose to ignore Taiwan’s humanitarian contribution in order to avoid embarrassing China, whose financial resources dwarf Taiwan’s but whose generosity pales by comparison.
That disparity aside, Japan’s mere acknowledgement of Taiwan as a separate donor entity would have incurred Beijing’s ire as a violation of its “one China principle.” Such is the Beijing mindset – and the extreme sensitivity of other governments to it.
Japan’s willingness to offend the dignity of Taiwan on a matter of so little real consequence to China raises the question of Tokyo’s steadfastness on more important security issues in the region – where competing Chinese and US interests will be central.
With Japan failing to reciprocate Taiwan’s earlier public gratitude for Japanese help after its own 1999 earthquake, the Taiwanese once again had reason to believe that no good deed goes unpunished. The incident also slighted the Taiwanese people’s open affection for Japan, their former colonial master.
In an opinion survey taken on Taiwan last year, more than half of those polled, 52 percent, listed Japan as their favorite country, while only 8 percent preferred the US, and 5 percent chose China. The Taiwanese admire their large Asian neighbor’s cultural traditions, successful economy, and shared democratic values.
Presumably, Japan could have navigated that shoal by identifying Taiwan as “Chinese Taipei” (the name used in the Olympics and the Asia-Pacific Economic forum) or the “Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu” (its identification in the World Trade Organization). In official international circles, none dare call it Taiwan.
The Taiwanese have become accustomed to well-intentioned governments finding it expedient to yield to Beijing on the question of formal diplomatic recognition.
South African President Nelson Mandela, revered for his intellectual integrity and strength of character, held out longer than leaders of more self-sufficient nations in his fealty to Taiwan’s independent democracy. But in 1998, he too felt compelled to yield to Chinese pressure and financial inducements for his country, and switched diplomatic allegiance from Taipei to Beijing. Such is the cruel and corrosive effect of China’s economic power and ideology on longstanding friendships among peoples.