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Home Editorials of Interest Taipei Times Japan-Taiwan preparation lacking

Japan-Taiwan preparation lacking

Beginning long before I moved to Taipei in January, I have had multiple discussions on the various effects of a Chinese invasion on Taiwan for the people of this great country as well as the region as a whole. I have also had conversations about how the foreign community would respond in such a contingency.

A long-time Japanese resident in Taipei explained to me in detail the situation facing his compatriots here in Taiwan. With his permission, I am sharing it with readers. His comments appear in quotes, and I have added my analysis.

This commentary might be of reference to the citizens of other countries living here in Taiwan as well. Please note, it is not a call to flee in panic, but an appeal to mitigate risk and carefully prepare. The more that can be planned and prepared ahead of time the less chaos would occur that could negatively impact Taiwanese authorities.

His response to our discussion begins with a synopsis: “The Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association and the Japanese Association of Taiwan, which takes its direction from the former, will have to play an important role in the event of a Taiwan contingency. However, a ‘Taiwan contingency’ cannot even be openly discussed.

“Therefore, the leaderships of these two organizations are not prepared for such a crisis, which means that the Japanese people residing in Taiwan may be harmed due to the lack of preparation. This seems to me preventable.”

It is not only those two associations that avoid discussion of a “Taiwan contingency,” my interlocutor said, adding that he “had the opportunity to discuss the issue of the safety of Japanese in Taiwan with company representatives stationed in the country, and there is one topic that many of them cannot talk about at these meetings, even though it is on their minds. That is the ‘Taiwan contingency.’”

Namely, if the company for which these Japanese work also has a branch office in China, many if not all the head offices have instructed them to refrain from making statements that might interfere with business. “This is a situation where the company’s business interests take precedence over the safety of the Japanese working for them here in Taiwan,” he said.

This kind of deferential or calculative attitude toward China is not only a corporate phenomenon. The Exchange Association, which is in effect Japan’s embassy in Taiwan, publishes an updated “Safety Guide for Japanese Residents in Taiwan” at the beginning of each year. Interestingly, the publication of the Jan. 1, 2021, edition was postponed until April last year. A reason for the more than one-year delay was that it was necessary to include a “Taiwan contingency” in its contents, but it took time to adjust the wording within the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA).

More worrisome for Japanese residents is the fact that the guide notes that “due to various restrictions (e.g., Taiwan’s sovereignty and relationship with laws and regulations, the authority of the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association, etc), there are some things that can be done and others that cannot be done. Please understand that there are some things we can do and some things we cannot do.”

One businessman I spoke with said that another problem exists with the situation facing Japanese residents here in Taiwan. In the Japanese family register, a supplementary piece of paper is used for domiciles, listing past and present addresses. If you have moved to Taiwan, your address is listed as “China,” which does not represent reality — geographically, legally, economically, politically or diplomatically.

“If a Taiwan contingency, were to occur now, there would be complete chaos. The policy of the exchange association and MOFA toward its own citizens is basically ‘protect yourself’ and ‘evacuate as soon as possible.’” In other words, he writes, “we should not bet on support from the [Japanese] government or other organizations, such as ones you might belong to. If help is provided, it is only supplementary to what you should be doing on your own.”

Clearly, that is not good enough, and might lead to Japanese leaving Taiwan for good or turning down assignments here.

He also said that regarding the so-called “early evacuation,” the Japanese ministry has four categories for safety measures — levels one (yellow) to four (red), with level one urging “caution” and level four being considered the “evacuation advisory.” (Level two urges the avoidance of unnecessary travel to the country and level three advises not to travel to the country whatsoever).

In Ukraine in 2022, it took 18 days for Japan’s MOFA to adjust its levels from three to four. Thirteen days elapsed between the time the evacuation order was issued and the invasion by Russian forces began. Despite this amount of time and the fact that there were only 150 Japanese residents requiring evacuation, the Japanese government was unable to utilize its Self-Defense Forces to fly them out and instead relied on charter flights to nearby countries.

Despite the lingering COVID-19 restrictions and the highly unfavorable exchange rate for Japanese tourists, there were still about 1 million Japanese visitors to Taiwan last year.

If we take the most recent month that data are available for as an indicator, 122,240 Japanese visited Taiwan in December last year. This works out to 3,943 people per day (31 days). As the average stay is three days, it means that at any given time, there are about 11,830 Japanese tourists in Taiwan.

If we add this figure to the 16,474 or so Japanese living in Taiwan, the total number of Japanese in Taiwan is about 28,000. Assuming scheduled commercial flights are still willing to fly in and pick up their passengers, these tourists would make it back to Japan over a couple of days, but where and how to evacuate the 16,000 Japanese residents in 13 days (give or take) is a big problem.

Neither the Exchange Association nor the Japanese Association has disclosed any helpful information on this issue. All they say, it seems, is: “Please evacuate as soon as possible.” This lack of proactive communication and detailed guidance is causing much unnecessary anxiety among Japanese residents in Taiwan.

Ignoring the issue is not a solution.

There is a subordinate organization within the Japanese Association called the Safety Measures Committee, which plans to conduct simulations in the event of a major earthquake. However, the committee apparently has avoided discussions and simulations based on the assumption of a Taiwan contingency.

The businessman suggested the following for his government to pursue: “I believe that safety measures in the event of a contingency in Taiwan, which should be discussed and prepared for, can be divided into four main categories:

“First: evacuation method. Second: information dissemination. Third: transportation of supplies, and fourth: coordination with other countries.”

He recommends that Japan and other countries make better use of Taiwan’s resources to prepare for a Taiwan emergency. Similarly, if other countries have contingency plans, the Japanese community would greatly welcome knowing about them.

Robert D. Eldridge is a 2024 MOFA Taiwan Fellow affiliated with Tamkang University, the translator of The Meiji Japanese Who Made Modern Taiwan, and cofounder of Diplomatic Support Services, based in Tokyo.

Source: Taipei Times - Editorials 2024/03/30

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