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Japan, After Warning From China, Backtracks on Taiwan 'Country' Remarks

Newsweek logo Newsweek 6/11/2021 Danya Hajjaji
Katsunobu Katō wearing a suit and tie: Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato speaks as he announces a list of cabinet members during a press conference at the prime minister's office in Tokyo on September 16, 2020. © KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato speaks as he announces a list of cabinet members during a press conference at the prime minister's office in Tokyo on September 16, 2020.

Japan has reiterated its official position as backing Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan after Beijing was angered by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga making a passing reference to the island as a country.

On Friday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a press conference that "Japan's position is to maintain working relations with Taiwan at the nongovernment level" in adherence to the 1972 Japan-China Communique, the Associated Press reported.

"That's our basic policy and there is no change to that," Kato said.

The agreement between Beijing and Tokyo had seen the latter severing official relations with Taiwan in favor of diplomatic ties with the People's Republic of China. Japan has entertained informal relations with Taipei through unofficial channels, while Japanese officials have been careful to refer to the self-ruled island as a "region" rather than a country.

Suga, who leads the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, provoked Beijing's ire during a Wednesday parliamentary session in which he mentioned Taiwan among "three countries"—alongside Australia and New Zealand—that implemented stricter measures to contain the spread of COVID-19. Opposition leader Yukio Edano of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan had also reportedly referred to Taiwan as a country during the same Diet session.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin in a daily press briefing accused Sugam of breaking "Japan's long-standing promise not to regard Taiwan as a country," adding that the Taiwan issue "concerns the political foundation of China-Japan relations."

Wang said China expressed its "strong dissatisfaction with the erroneous remarks" and has "lodged solemn representations" with Japan.

Video: Data Revisions Leave Taiwan Unsure Where Outbreak Is Heading (Bloomberg)

"China demands that Japan make an immediate clarification to undo the harm already caused, and guarantee a similar incident will never happen again," he said, urging Tokyo to "earnestly keep its promise, be cautious with its words and actions, and not to damage China's sovereignty in any way."

Also on Friday, Japan's upper house of parliament adopted a resolution urging the World Health Organization to include Taiwan in its meetings, citing its crucial expertise on COVID-19 measures, the AP reported. China has blocked the move.

On Friday June 4, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen thanked Japan for sending AstraZeneca COVID vaccines to the island, exalting the "Taiwan-Japan friendship based on shared values and mutual support." She also expressed gratitude towards the U.S. for including Taiwan among the recipients for vaccine donations through the global COVAX program.

President Tsai Ing-wen had previously accused Beijing of blocking a deal Taipei was negotiating to secure vaccines from Pfizer and BioNTech.

China recently criticized a high-profile visit to Taiwan Sunday by U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth, Chris Coons and Dan Sullivan.

Wang had warned the U.S. should be "be prudent when dealing with the Taiwan question and avoid sending any erroneous signals to separatist forces" in the island.

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