THE PLATFORM

Tarō Asō, Japan’s deputy prime minister, recently announced that Japan is ready to defend Taiwan in case of Chinese military aggression. The statement of a high-ranking Japanese politician breathed new life into the discussion of the Taiwan issue.

Japan’s position on Taiwan is hardly unexpected. The traditional alliance of Tokyo and Washington has recently concentrated its pressure on China.

At first glance, it seems that Tokyo is following good intentions to protect the Taiwanese people from Beijing’s aggression. However, the history of the relationship between Japan and Taiwan hints at the hidden ambition of the Japanese government on the Taiwan issue.

By now, everyone should have heard about the Nanjing Massacre or the Rape of Nanjing. What is less known is that Taiwan had been under Japanese occupation for half a century. The island was captured by Japanese troops in 1895.

The desire of the Japanese to make Taiwan a constant part of Japan was accompanied by the need to destroy the island’s national and cultural identity. Locals were forced to speak Japanese, wear Japanese clothes, live in Japanese houses, and turn to Shinto. Since 1942, after the war had begun in the Pacific, the Taiwanese were forcibly recruited to join the Japanese military.

Taiwanese resistance was brutally suppressed. The most famous conflict with the Japanese occurred in 1930 in the Wushe region when as a result of locals’ disobedience, the Japanese killed more than 700 local residents.

In 1945, Japan lost control of the island.

More than 70 years have passed since the Second World War but Tokyo still denies any crimes committed by its military. Japan is currently involved in territorial disputes with China, South Korea, and Russia.

Although Japan has so far refrained from commenting on Taiwan’s status, Tarō Asō’s recent remarks serve as an alarm bell for regional security. Tokyo first pointed to its own ambitions to strengthen influence in the South China Sea and to protect its former colony.

Tarō Asō’s recent remarks about Japan’s role in coming to Taiwan’s defense should be understood as both a warning to China and also a reminder that Japan’s history with Taiwan is complicated, to say the least.

Alan Callow was born in Japan, and graduated from Western Mindanao State University (Philippines). Alan is a freelance journalist with experience in writing about the Asia Pacific region.