Mutual diplomatic faux pas abound

By Joe Hung

Japan is known for making diplomatic faux pas. One grievous mistake was made in 1933 when the Land of the Rising Sun withdrew from the League of Nations after the Mukden Incident that sired the puppet state Manchukuo. Another one was Japan’s joining the Axis in 1940 to force the United States to decide to fight in the Second World War, despite Prime Minister Prince Fumimaro Konoe’s vain last minute effort to meet President Franklin D. Roosevelt for the world’s first summit to head it off. On last Dec. 28, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, under heavy pressure from Seoul and Washington, was compelled to apologize to South Korea and promise to compensate for the Japanese Imperial Army’s drafting of sex slaves, in an effort to patch up the frayed relations between the two neighboring countries. A week later, his chief Cabinet secretary Masahide Suga made a gross diplomatic gaffe of rejecting Taiwan’s proposal to negotiate a deal similar to the one Japan had just made with South Korea. One reason he offered for the rejection is that the situation in which the oral agreement was made is “different” from the one between Taiwan and Japan now.

The gaffe, probably intentional on Abe’s orders, was prompted by an astounding diplomatic blunder Taipei committed right after the Japan-Korea accord had been reached. Fearful of being criticized for inaction on the comfort women issue, President Ma ordered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to get negotiations started at once to conclude an accord like the one Abe made with Korean President Park Geun-hye. Ma went on record by stating there shouldn’t be any debate on whether “military sex slaves” were forced or were “volunteers,” and he regretted that Taiwan had been neglected when Japan and South Korea resolved their comfort women dispute. Foreign Minister David Lin expressed his hope that Tokyo would agree to get negotiations under way early this month. Well, the diplomatic gaffes were made on both sides simply because the politicians ignored the importance of the classic and oft-quoted adage of “Speech is silver, but silence is golden” to diplomacy. Had Ma kept silent, though he may just give orders to the foreign office, the negotiations would have begun by now. If he had called the maxim to mind and kept his mouth shut, Lin wouldn’t have come out to confidently predict that negotiations would offend the Japanese by humbling their pride in creating the Great East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere (GEACS) during World War II. At that time, Taiwan and Korea were Japanese colonies, while Manchukuo was the puppet state they created in Manchuria right after the Japanese Kuangtung Army-organized September 18 Incident of 1931 and Wang Ching-wei’s Republic of China submission to Japan as one of the GEACS members. Wang parted with Chiang and formed the collaborationist government of the Republic of China in Nanjing in 1938. Suga’s mistake delays the solution of the comfort women disputes with Taiwan as well as with former GEACS member states. In Taiwan, it raised public awareness that Japan is bullying its former colony and anti-Japanese sentiments began to rise. The pro-Beijing Chinese Unification Promotion Party staged a demonstration to burn a Japanese national flag before the Taipei Office of Japan’s Interchange Association, while in another demonstration in front of the Ministry of Education, New Party supporters shouted “Down with the party buttering up Japan” and “Restore grandmas’ dignity.” The party condemned the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) that is expected to win the presidential and legislative elections on this coming Saturday. They also demanded that the ministry keep “forced” in the newly revised high school history textbook description of the comfort women which was removed in those textbooks published while the DPP was in power.