Japan envoy praises Taiwan as 'irreplaceable partner'
Taipei, Dec. 1 (CNA) Japan's top envoy to Taiwan on Thursday praised the "best-ever" Tokyo-Taipei relations and said the two neighbors have become "irreplaceable partners" over the past five decades, despite the lack of official diplomatic ties.
Speaking during an event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association (JTEA), the country's de facto embassy in Taiwan in the absence of official relations, Hiroyasu Izumi said the past five decades "was not an easy journey at all."
The association was established in 1972 to serve as a de facto embassy after Japan severed ties with the Republic of China (Taiwan) and recognized the People's Republic of China.
Izumi said when the association was first launched under the name of the Interchange Association, "it is no exaggeration to say it started from the very bottom" with bilateral relations "in a state of limbo."
However, over the past decades, the envoy said, Taiwan has gradually transformed from a one party authoritarian regime into today's democracy. As a result, two-way ties have also improved.
According to JTEA numbers, only 45,000 Taiwanese visited Japan in 1973. In 2019, Taiwanese made 4.89 million visits to the country. At the same time, two-way trade was US$1.5 billion in 1972, rising to US$85.4 billion in 2021.
Today, Tokyo-Taipei relations are at an all-time high, he said.
In a public opinion poll conducted by the association earlier this year in Taiwan, 77 percent of Taiwanese said they felt a sense of familiarity with Japan, while in a similar survey conducted last year in Japan, 76 percent of respondents said they felt a strong affinity with Taiwan, according to Izumi.
The envoy said when he first took up the post in 2019, most countries were not as aware of Taiwan's importance in the international community as they are today.
Over the past three years, he has witnessed a significant rise in Taiwan's importance on the world stage. Meanwhile, Taiwanese people also seem to have become more confident in their "Taiwan identity," Izumi added.
"In the turbulent international community, relation between Japan and Taiwan, which share universal values such as democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law, is more important than ever as both sides have become irreplaceable partners," he said.
"The relationship is exactly as the saying goes, if the lips are gone the teeth will be cold," he added.
Meanwhile, Theodore Huang (黃茂雄), acting head of the Taiwan-Japan Relations Association (TJRA), the Taiwanese counterpart of the JTEA, noted in his address that he was personally involved in founding the TJRA, formerly known as the Association of East Asian Relations, which was established at the same time as the JTEA.
The two countries have successfully overcome the challenges presented by the severing of official diplomatic ties, he said.
People-to-people exchanges as well as trade and investment have continued to flourish over the past decades, with two-way trade totaling US$85.31 billion last year, making the two countries each other's third largest trading partners, he added.
Looking forward to the next 50 years, Huang said there are a number of new challenges ahead for Taiwan and Japan, including climate change, economic supply chains, cyber security and health issues.
"All these issues rely on our joint collaboration so regional peace and prosperity is better protected," Huang added.
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