The politics of Japan’s Taiwan vaccine donation

The Japanese government has injected itself into the increasingly tense confrontation in the Taiwan Straits.

Last Friday, Japan sent Taiwan 1.24 million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 jab, after Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen accused China of blocking the territory’s access to vaccines amid its worst coronavirus outbreak since the pandemic began.

Beijing regards Taiwan – a self-governing island that lies 161km (100 miles) off the Chinese coast – as part of its territory and has not ruled out the use of force to achieve its goal. It has taken an increasingly assertive stance since Tsai was first elected in 2016, claiming that she wants independence for the island’s 23.6 million people, and tensions have risen as traditional allies, including the United States, rallied to support Taiwan.

Japan has for decades taken a quieter approach.

But with China’s growing economic and military might and its continuing challenge to Japanese sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands, known to the Chinese as the Diaoyutai Islands, the government in Tokyo is changing tack.

“The Japanese conservatives have really seized upon the Taiwan issue as a way of drawing lines with the Chinese,” said Daniel Sneider, lecturer in East Asian Studies at Stanford University.

China’s rise has worried many in Japan.

In recent years, Beijing has become increasingly assertive in the Asia Pacific region, showcasing its military might in the East China Sea and the South China Sea to back its maritime and territorial claims in the disputed seas.

Taiwan, which also lays claim to the South China Sea, has also felt the heat from Beijing.

Over the past year, the Chinese military has sent fighter jets into the island’s airspace on a near-daily basis, with 25 Chinese military aircraft flying through on April 12.

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