China should refrain from using force to change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait, a senior figure in Japan’s ruling party said on a visit to Taipei, a comment that come as Beijing escalates its economic punishments of the democratically ruled island.
Maintaining peace in the strait was vital for a free and open Indo-Pacific, said Mr Koichi Hagiuda, the policy chief of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, according to the Kyodo News agency.
Mr Hagiuda, whose visit was the first by a senior LDP official to Taiwan in 19 years, added that Japan was determined to “bolster strike capabilities in an effort to strengthen deterrence”.
In a meeting on Saturday with Mr Hagiuda, President Tsai Ing-wen said Taiwan would continue to deepen partnerships with Japan, according to a statement from the Presidential Office in Taipei. She also urged Tokyo to support Taiwan’s membership in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal known as the CPTPP.
Mr Hagiuda’s visit is significant because it comes just days after Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida ordered a sharp hike in defence spending. The money is set to be used for items such as stockpiling missiles capable of striking military targets in China, Russia and North Korea.
It’s also notable because China appears to be stepping up its economic punishment of the island’s government for expanding ties with the US and its allies. China has dramatically scaled back purchases of some Taiwanese seafood products this year, importing just US$56 million (S$76 million) worth of fish and crustaceans in the six months from May to October, compared with US$138 million during the same period a year earlier, according to China Customs data.
Over the weekend, Taipei said it had asked Beijing why it had suspended the import of liquor and soft drinks from certain Taiwanese companies. State-owned Taiwan Tobacco & Liquor, Uni-President Enterprises, Legend Brewery, Yunshan Distillery and Taihu Brewing have been affected by the move, according to the website of China’s customs department.
Food and liquor made up a tiny fraction of Taiwan’s more than US$328 billion of two-way trade with China last year, but it is one area where Beijing can find alternative suppliers, unlike the island’s semiconductor industry.
Finance Minister Su Jain-rong told lawmakers on Monday the alcohol ban would impact less than NT$1 billion (S$41 million) of products, out of some NT$3.7 billion shipped across the strait annually.
Ms Jessica Chen, a lawmaker for Taiwan’s opposition Kuomintang, said she’d visit Chinese officials on Monday to discuss the liquor ban on a company in her constituency. She also plans to talk about limited travel, postal and trade links between the two sides of the strait.
Mr Hagiuda went to the headquarters of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, the world’s biggest maker of made-to-order chips, and met its managers, the Nikkei newspaper reported.
This comes as the US moves to restrict Beijing’s access to high-end technology. Japan and Taiwan will further enhance their partnership on semiconductors, Mr Hagiuda was cited by the Nikkei as saying.
The LDP frequently sends lawmakers to Taiwan to push back at efforts by China to isolate Taipei. Mr Kishida has warned that a problem in the Taiwan Strait would have enormous consequences for Japan.
Beijing claims the island as part of its territory to be taken by force if necessary, though Ms Tsai insists it is already a de facto nation deserving broader recognition.