Tribute to former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in front of the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association Office in Songshan District, Taipei. (DSC_0861 © 玄 史生, CC0 1.0)

The July 8th shooting of Japan’s ex-Prime Minister sent shock waves across the globe. World leaders were prompt to condemn the assassination and hail Shinzo Abe’s contributions to world diplomacy. Commensurately, Tsai visited the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association and paid her respects to – according to her – Taiwan’s “most loyal best friend.”
Much media attention in Taiwan has centered on Abe’s promotion of Taiwanese pineapple exports during the mainland’s boycott as a symbol of his friendship with the island. His assertion that “a Taiwan emergency is a Japanese emergency” in November of 2021 has been similarly highlighted.
Indeed, Japan has become a crucial strategic partner for Taiwan amid rising cross-strait tensions. While Abe’s militaristic policies – which threatened to overturn the defensive architecture of Japan’s ‘self-defense’ forces – sparked concerns across China and the Korean peninsula, Taiwan celebrated these developments as counters to the mainland’s growing military prowess. Thus, Tsai’s sincere condolences can, in this sense, be interpreted as smart diplomacy to brown-nose Japan for continued support.
This, however, was where the line should have been drawn. The subsequent presidential order to lower the ROC (Republic of China) flag to half-mast at all government offices and public schools in honor of Abe trespassed any national security objective.
Of the many controversies surrounding Abe’s legacy, the one most dear to Taiwan should be that concerning the Yasukuni Shrine. The memorial commemorates over 1,000 war criminals – including the perpetrators of the 1937 Nanjing Massacre which left over 300,000 Chinese dead under the ROC government. The shrine even claims that Japan’s invasion of the ROC was a result of “Chinese soldiers and civilians [who] were strongly against Japan [and caused] Japanese there [to be] living in tears.” Abe’s audacious visits – both during and after his tenures – represent his support for such revisionist narratives of history and deep-seated aspirations to resurrect Japan’s imperial past.
Of course, these concerns are merely peripheral under Tsai’s agenda of de-Sinicization. Going as far as removing components of Chinese history from middle school textbooks, her DPP (Democratic People’s Party) government has long aimed to uproot Taiwanese society from its Chinese origins. In promoting an artificial ‘Taiwanese identity,’ it has also subverted the ROC’s core claim to be the legitimate Chinese state. Then, according to Tsai, the Nanjing Massacre must not be Taiwan’s history. It is China’s history.
In democratic Taiwan, Tsai is at liberty to bow down to Abe’s portrait as many times as she pleases. Nonetheless, the ROC constitution requires the president to “represent the Republic of China in foreign relations” – of which is the fundamental assertion that the ROC is the sole representative of China. In lowering the ROC flag for a Japanese leader who failed to atone for his country’s past crimes and even dared to celebrate the very war criminals who massacred ROC citizens, Tsai not only disgraced her country’s pride and history but committed an unconstitutional act of treason.
Taiwan ultimately stands as a contingency whose continued autonomy is critical to Japan’s security. Abe represented a hawkish right-wing politician whose militaristic inclinations happened to align favorably with Taiwan’s strategic objectives.
One can only hope that while Tsai leads the DPP, she also remembers – just once in a while – her duties as president of the Republic of China.

Credits: The Wall Street Journal, CNN, The Asahi Shinbun, The Heritage Foundation

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