Japan is planning to include Taiwan among the names of countries to be read aloud during flower offerings at former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's state funeral next week, government sources said Saturday.
The plan appears to have been made out of consideration for the close ties Abe had built with Taiwan until he was killed by a shooter during a campaign event in early July. If carried out, the sources said Japan is likely to refer to the self-ruled island as Taiwan, not by its official Republic of China name.
But treating Taiwan as a country at the state funeral on Tuesday could still trigger a strong reaction from China, which regards the democratic island as a breakaway province to be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary.
Around 4,300 people are expected to attend the service at the Nippon Budokan hall in Tokyo. Of them, the government has said about 700 are likely to be from 218 foreign countries and regions, as well as international organizations.
China is scheduled to send Wan Gang, vice chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, to the ceremony.
One of the three members of Taiwan's delegation, billed by its president's spokesman as intended to show the "strong and true friendship" between Taipei and Tokyo, is Su Jia-chyuan, who heads an association in charge of bilateral affairs in the absence of formal diplomatic ties.
The two others are former legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng and Frank Hsieh, Taiwan's current de facto ambassador to Japan and a former premier.
In contrast to the arrangements for the flower laying, the Taiwanese representatives will be seated between areas for delegates from countries around the world and those for international organizations, and are expected to be placed next to Palestine, which is also not a recognized country, according to the sources.
The guest list the Japanese government released Thursday puts the Taiwanese delegation in the regions section.
Taiwan's delegates are also not likely to be invited to an event on Tuesday night after the funeral, at which representatives of foreign nations will offer condolences to the late leader's widow Akie Abe and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, the sources said.
Its guest list is limited to national leaders and incumbent legislative body leaders.
China has been vocal in opposition to any actions it views as interference in its "internal affairs," and tensions have flared following U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi's early August visit to Taiwan.
A Taiwan contingency is also of particular concern for Japan given the proximity of its southwesterly islands, including the Senkakus, a group of Tokyo-controlled East China Sea islets claimed by Beijing.
In a joint communique with China in 1972, Japan acknowledged the People's Republic of China as China's sole legitimate government and severed ties with Taiwan.
Since diplomatic ties between the two countries were normalized in the year, Japan has taken a stance of respecting China's claim on Taiwan as part of its territory, while also maintaining nongovernmental working relations with the island.
In recent years, China has become more alert to risks from closer Japan-Taiwan ties, and is calling on Tokyo to respect the "political foundations" of their relations.
Taiwan's treatment at an official event in Japan caused controversy more than once in the past. Former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda was forced to apologize in parliament for not treating Taiwan among the countries to give flowers during a 2012 memorial ceremony for the victims of the previous year's catastrophic earthquake and tsunami.
While Taiwan was included in the 2013 event held under the Abe government, China refused to attend in protest -- a move which was also possibly due to worsening bilateral ties in the wake of Japan's purchase in 2012 of the Beijing-claimed islets from their private Japanese owner.