Japanese foreign minister calls Taiwan a `country'

Japan's outspoken foreign minister referred to Taiwan as a "law-abiding country" on Thursday and drew a strong protest from Beijing, which considers the island a part of China.

Aso, who has riled China in recent months with a series of critical comments, told a parliamentary committee that Japan and Taiwan shared democracy and a market economy.

"Its democracy is considerably matured and liberal economics is deeply ingrained, so it is a law-abiding country," Aso said. "In various ways it is a country that shares a sense of values with Japan."

The comment appeared to conflict with long-standing Japanese policy of one-China, meaning Tokyo, like the United States and many other nations, does not recognize Taiwan as an independent country.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry, however, denied Aso was breaking new ground.

"There is no change in Japan's position on the Japan-China agreement of 1972 that stated there is one China," said Keiji Kamei, of the China division in the Foreign Ministry.

Beijing quickly issued a strongly worded protest.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang called on Japan to honor its commitments made to China over the status of Taiwan, reiterating Beijing's stance that Taiwan is an inseparable part of China.

"China strongly protests this crude interference in its internal affairs, reports the AP.


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