Taiwan aims to build ties with Japan on maritime, regional issues

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen speaking during a press conference at the Taipei Guest House on Aug 20, 2016.
Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen speaking during a press conference at the Taipei Guest House on Aug 20, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI (REUTERS) - Taiwan is to launch talks with Japan on maritime cooperation, including on fisheries and search and rescue, President Tsai Ing-wen said, part of a push to deepen ties with Asia's second-largest economy.

China regards Taiwan as a wayward province, to be taken back by force if necessary, and is likely to disapprove of it building ties with Japan, especially when China is suspicious of Japan forging closer maritime cooperation in South-east Asia.

"In the near future, we will jointly open the Taiwan-Japan maritime affairs cooperation dialogue," Ms Tsai told Japan's Yomiuru Shimbun newspaper. "We don't rule out it could take place this month," she said, according to a transcript of the interview, issued by her office on Friday (Oct 7).

Media interviews by Taiwan presidents are often used as a way for the diplomatically isolated, self-ruled island to state positions to a wider audience.

Ms Tsai, like her predecessors, is constrained from travelling to other countries, most of which have official relations with China and recognise its "one China" principle.

She leads the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party and she took power in May after an election win, raising suspicion in Beijing.

Ms Tsai said she looked forward to cooperating with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to strengthen relations and promote regional stability.

"From Taiwan's perspective, Prime Minister Abe is someone we are quite familiar with over a long period of time. We also understand that he has goodwill toward Taiwan," she said.

For Japan, building ties with Taiwan could risk its relations with Beijing, which are already strained by arguments over their wartime history and a territorial dispute in the East China Sea.

China is also suspicious of Japanese moves to help the Philippines and Vietnam develop their maritime security. Both are in disputes with China over rival claims in the South China Sea.

Ms Tsai called on Beijing to talk, saying that immediately after she took power on May 20, China appeared to be "relatively rational and calm" in handling matters with Taiwan.

"But we have seen China reverting to past practice of exerting pressure on Taiwan to obtain a political position," she said. "We will have patience but we hope the other side can show more wisdom."

Taiwan has been self-ruled since the Nationalists defeated in China's civil war fled there in 1949. Beijing is particularly sensitive of any hint of a move by the island towards independence.