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[Asia's Next Page] DPP Continuity Raises the Scope for Japan-Taiwan Cooperation

The continuity in leadership vision is an added incentive for Japan to involve Taiwan in supply chain resilience efforts, including semiconductor production.



President-elect Lai Ching-te (left) and vice president-elect Hsiao Bi-khim declare their victory in front of supporters. January 13, Taipei, Taiwan. (©Sankei by Kengo Matsumoto)

President-elect Lai Ching-te of Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) held talks with Japanese representatives Keiji Furuya and Yasushi Kaneko in separate meetings. The latter is the Chair of the Japan-ROC Diet Members' Consultative Council. Lai also met with the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association Chairman Ohashi Mitsuo a day after Lai's election victory. The meetings highlighted Japan and Taiwan's enhanced and urgent interest in solidifying ties.

Moreover, the meetings happened almost parallel to China's criticism of Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa's response to the election results. She congratulated Taiwan for the successful democratic process and Lai's victory. Beijing has criticized her response as "interference" in China's "local" affairs. 

That the rebuke did not subdue the Japan-Taiwan positive course speaks volumes about the larger picture. An unprecedented third consecutive win for the pro-independence DPP has given momentum to existing efforts for Indo-Pacific stability and peace among the United States, its allies, and partners. This is particularly important for Japan's free and open Indo-Pacific vision. 

Japanese Perceptions and Interests

The Taiwanese elections have become markers for security in East Asia. If a China-friendly party were to become the governing party of Taiwan, it could alter the fundamental nature of cooperation with Japan, which has hardened its stance on China.

But the DPP's win has made such questions irrelevant. This is highlighted also by the Japanese media's positive coverage of the DPP win. The media has reported the results as a victory for democratic "maturity" and solidarity amid China's great intimidation tactics.

Japan has continued to suffer as a victim of China's economic coercion and military adventurism in the East China Sea. Therefore, the stability and status quo in the Taiwan Strait assumes greater importance for Japan. The country has continued to address Taiwan as a "crucial partner and an important friend" that shares fundamental values like democracy.

Supply Chain Risks

China's overt calls for Taiwan reunification at all odds and by whatever means have caused considerable fear in Japan. Japan's security has a direct correlation with a Taiwan contingency. This is due not only to its geographical proximity but also economic insecurity. For an import-dependent Japan, the threat to Indo-Pacific maritime routes poses supply chain risks.

So Japan must undertake efforts to de-risk the potential disruption for Japanese industries in the import of critical materials. These include semiconductor chips. The Japanese government is incentivizing globally renowned Taiwanese chipmakers like TSMC to open plants in Japan through joint ventures. This is a step in the right direction. 


As part of its diversification strategy away from China, Taiwan's Powertech Technology is also reportedly considering expanding in Japan contingent on finding investment partners. Japan must also signal greater security alignment with Taiwan for common goals of peace and stability.

The New Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing plant is under construction in November 2023. Kikuyo, Kumamoto Prefecture, Kyushu. (©Kyodo)

Continuity in Policies

Taiwan's presidential baton is passing hands between leaders of the same party. Outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen and President-elect Lai have similar foreign policy visions. This is good news for Japan. 

At the same time, the DPP has lost the majority in the legislature elections. This brings perspective to the limits of cultivating ties based on solidarity alone minus the official diplomatic recognition. 

Nonetheless, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida can continue to hone his strong outreach to Taiwan, following in the footsteps of Shinzo Abe. The latest outcome is important if Japan wants to strengthen Indo-Pacific security with "like-minded" partners.

Already, Japan has been upscaling its national security strategy. It has witnessed a shift away from pacifism due to the constant threat from China and North Korea. Japan has enabled an upgrade of its defense capabilities and, importantly, doubling of the defense budget.

Vis-à-vis Taiwan, in 2023, Kishida appointed lawmaker and defense ministry official Minoru Kihara as the new defense minister and de facto defense attaché in Taiwan. Kihara is known for favoring stronger ties with Taipei. Such steps have bolstered Japan's security ties to the self-governing island, which does not have official diplomatic ties with Japan.

It is unlikely that Lai will break with Tsai's outreach to states like Japan that express solidarity with Taiwan's democratic aims. Such countries put the spotlight in favor of Taiwan's participation in international forums. Kishida will, in turn, keep the pressure on China by internationalizing the issue of maintaining the status quo in the Taiwan Strait. He will aim to achieve this through carefully crafted joint statements like in the 2023 G7 summit, which Japan hosted.

Creating the Space for Like-minded Coalition

Certainly, there exists ambiguity among international and regional actors in defining their own strategic roles vis-à-vis the Taiwan question. The primary reason has been a fear of retaliation by China. Some countries are concerned that this would unnecessarily destabilize the status quo in the Taiwan Strait and the wider Indo-Pacific in general. 

For example, China has continually used other countries' overdependence on Chinese trade as a weapon. Both Taiwan and Japan have repeatedly experienced this. China's suspension of all Japanese seafood imports is a case in point. The embargo came after Japan started releasing treated water into the ocean from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.


China has warned countries not to cross its "red line" on Taiwan. However, Beijing's continued aggressive economic and military tactics are starting to disrupt the deference some countries in the immediate neighborhood have shown.

Such repeated Chinese misbehavior has led to states like Japan and Australia hardening their stances against China. Even India with its refusal to reiterate the One China policy has joined this bandwagon. 

Furthermore, India was forced to reconsider its engagement with China in the aftermath of the bloody Galwan battle in 2020. Since then, India has accelerated its outreach to Taiwan, besides deeper involvement in US-led initiatives to counter China.

Building Economic Resilience

In the absence of diplomatic ties with Taiwan, strengthening cooperation focused on high-tech economic security is certainly a viable option. It would benefit the entire region.

Japan must explore avenues of involving the economically and technologically advanced Taiwan in the new supply chain resilience initiatives. This includes partnerships in semiconductor manufacturing. 

The US is pushing for building economic resilience to counter trade overdependence on China. Given Taiwan's strengths, it is imperative to involve Taiwan in some capacity via various frameworks and initiatives. These include the Australia-India-Japan-cofounded Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI), the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), and the Semiconductor Supply Chain Initiative by the four-member Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad). 

Former Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, former presidential aide Stephen Hadley, Taiwanese Vice President Lai Ching-te, and others from the US delegation meet in Taipei on January 15, 2024. (©Democratic Progressive Party via Kyodo)

The 2023 G7 summit, hosted by Japan, was also vocal about supporting reliable, resilient supply chain networks through global partnerships. Taiwan's inclusion in this effort would be critical. 

Overall, the continuity in leadership vision in Taiwan, the aforementioned limits notwithstanding, is an added incentive for states like Japan to give momentum to future-oriented bilateral and regional cooperation. 


Author: Jagannath Panda


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