Japan’s Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Jiro Akama arrived in Taiwan Saturday, the highest-ranking government official to visit the island since the severing of diplomatic ties between Taipei and Tokyo in 1972. Speaking at the Colorful Japan event in Taipei, Akama called on President Tsai Ing-wen’s administration to lift a ban on imports of food from prefectures affected by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Akama said the products had already been cleared as safe for consumption in Japan.
The government has faced intense pressure from civic groups and the opposition Kuomintang over the possible easing of the ban. Public hearings on the issue drew large protests around the island. Underlining the significance of Akama’s visit, Chiou I-jen, chairman of the Association of East Asian Relations, Taiwan’s de facto embassy in Japan, said, the trip had “not come easy.” Chiou sought to emphasize the common ties between Taiwan and Japan, saying “it is exactly because we both face the same problems … this shows how closely intertwined the fates of Taiwan and Japan are.”
Tokyo has placed strong pressure on Tsai ‘s administration to lift the import ban. Some analysts suggested that the sending of such a high-ranking official to Taiwan showed Tokyo’s eagerness to lift the ban. Akama, speaking to the press on the sidelines of the event, said his country’s relations with China were “very important,” but that the “actual ties” between Japan and Taiwan had not changed despite the absence of government-to-government interactions between the two sides. He added that he had no plans to meet Taiwan government officials during his short stay.
Japan, which ruled Taiwan as a colony between 1895 to 1945, has maintained friendly relations with the island’s government, despite territorial disputes over the Diaoyutais in the East China Sea. Japan is the second most-popular country after Singapore for Taiwanese tourists, according to a recent survey. Taiwanese people made generous donations to Japan during the Fukushima disaster in 2011, and then in 2016 when a major earthquake hit Kumamoto.
Akama, in his address to the ceremony, expressed gratitude to Taiwan for its support during the two disasters. He said Fukushima had been reconstructed and asked Taiwanese tourists to come visit there. He said the number of travelers between Taiwan and Japan had reached more than six million a year, and that he hoped the number would rise further in the future.