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Why didn't Japan send a thank-you note to Taiwan? One word: Beijing.

Taiwan gave more money to Japan after its triple disaster than any other country. So why did Japan leave Taiwan off the list of nations it thanked? China. If Japan can't stand up to Beijing on such a small matter, what does that mean for US and Japanese security interests in the region?

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Japan itself had changed diplomatic relations in 1973, six years before the US. But for Japan to kowtow to Beijing on a purely humanitarian matter of so little diplomatic or political moment may seem to Taiwan the unkindest cut of all.

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Though unnecessarily hurtful to a decent and sharing people, it is not monumental in the scale of indignities Taiwan has endured because of China’s intimidation of the international community.

Taiwan’s scientists, for example, have made major contributions in medical research, global disease control, and pandemic prevention – in sharp contrast to China’s lamentable record on H1N1, avian influenza, SARS, HIV/AIDS, and other health threats.

Yet China has succeeded in keeping Taiwan out of the World Health Organization and only recently allowed it to acquire observer status – as Chinese Taipei.

(Taiwan does participate in its own name in the Proliferation Security Initiative, a US-led collaborative effort, rather than a formal organization, and played a significant role in intercepting contraband weapons aboard a North Korean vessel. China has refused to participate in PSI.)

When a US ally can't stand up to China

As a strategic ally of the US, Japan plays a critical role in Washington’s efforts to ensure regional stability, including Taiwan’s continued de facto independence from China – unless and until the Taiwanese freely choose a different relationship.

In the relatively innocuous test of Tokyo’s willingness to risk Chinese umbrage over Taiwan’s humanitarian assistance, the result was not encouraging. Japan has an opportunity to undo some of the damage and restore its moral standing by sticking to its earlier commitment to use “Taiwan” instead of “Chinese Taipei” in official documents.

China certainly will object, but Japan’s honor, and potentially its long-term security, may be at stake if it does not draw a line against Chinese pressures on matters large and small.

Joseph A. Bosco served in the office of the secretary of Defense as China country desk office (2005-2006) and managed the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief portfolio for the Asia-Pacific region (2008-2010). He previously taught graduate seminars on China-US-Taiwan relations at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. He is now a national security consultant.

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