Japan Reports ‘Sense of Crisis’ About Taiwan – That’s Why It’s Worried About China’s Military Objectives
In recent weeks, Japan has signaled a significant foreign policy shift that could have security implications in the Asia-Pacific region.
the last from Japan defense white paper, released last week, for the first time directly referred to Taiwan’s importance to peace and security in the region.
Noting an increase in tensions between the two sides of the strait following “China’s intensified military activities around Taiwan”, the document warns that Tokyo “will pay close attention to the situation with a sense of crisis.”
This follows even firmer language from Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, who mentionned earlier this month, Japan “would have to defend Taiwan” alongside the United States if it were invaded by China. He then retracted.
China has reacted with predictable fury to the statements, both through official channels and its more belligerent media.
Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs decried the white paper as “extremely false and irresponsible”. Meanwhile, the Global Times newspaper claims Japan will âlose badlyâ if it comes to Taiwan’s aid.
And a more inflammatory video appeared on a military commentary channel advocating a nuclear response to any Japanese intervention, before being cut.
Why Taiwan is a regional hotspot
Taiwan’s unresolved status has long been viewed as a potentially dangerous flashpoint in the Asia-Pacific region. As US power has waned and China has become increasingly dominant in recent years, the issue has come back to the fore.
Beijing has never given up on its ultimate aspiration to reclaim what it calls a “renegade province of China.” In 2005, he spent a âanti-secession law“Declaring any attempt by Taipei to translate its de facto sovereignty into formal” independence “would be fought by force.
Read more: China doesn’t want war, at least not yet. It’s playing the long game
Chinese President Xi Jinping has been particularly adamant in his desire to achieve “national reunification,” as he Express, in colorful language, during the celebration of the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party in early July.
After seeing Hong Kong’s unfortunate return to the “motherland” in recent years, however, the people of Taiwan have resolved in words Foreign Minister Joseph Wu to “defend us until the last day” if a Chinese attack were to materialize.
The ruling Progressive Democratic Party in Taipei was backed by the growing support of the Biden administration, although the United States has sought to avoid a possible military confrontation with China and stopped short to support any movement towards formal âindependenceâ.
Why Japan is worried
This is where Japan comes in. Traditionally, Tokyo has been cautious in offering open support to Taiwan due to diplomatic sensitivities with Beijing, a major trading partner.
But for Tokyo, Taiwan’s predicament is indicative of the challenges that a more powerful and assertive China poses to Japan’s own security and regional stability more broadly. This was accentuated by the inexorable shift in the Asia-Pacific balance of power in favor of China.
Read more: Morrison’s trip to Japan results in defense pact, but travel bubble less certain
Not only is Japan now more supportive of Taiwan as a sister democracy, but it fears for its own strategic vulnerability if China occupies Taiwan.
This is because Taiwan finds itself at a crucial strategic choke point for naval forces in the Western Pacific – the so-called “first chain of islandsâStretching from Japan in the north to the Philippines in the south.
Taiwan is only 100 kilometers from the island closest to the Japanese archipelago Ryukyu, meaning that without Taiwan as a friendly neighbor, Japan’s strategic southern flank would become extremely exposed.
How Japan is intensifying
This has led Japan to take a stronger stance on regional security, especially under the leadership of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
In 2015, for example, Japan passed a controversial law law “peace and security” which enabled it to engage in âcollective self-defenseâ with allies and strategic partners, thus offering the possibility of contributing more meaningfully in any crisis scenario.
Japan also increased its defense budget (it increased by 0.5% to 5.34 trillion yen or A $ 66.4 billion this year). And he emphasized his new military capabilities, such as the renovation from its helicopter destroyers to de facto aircraft carriers, the creation of an amphibious assault force and the acquisition of ranged or strike missiles.
Tokyo has also assumed the role of a more vocal regional leader in terms of diplomacy. This is illustrated by his “Free and open Indo-PacificâVision for the regional order, which emphasizes the promotion of the rule of law, the pursuit of economic prosperity and a commitment to peace and stability.
One of the most significant aspects of this “vision” has been the strengthening of bilateral strategic partnerships with countries such as Australia and India. Along with the United States, these countries form the “Quad”, a loose coalition seeking to counter the growing Chinese domination of the region.
Read more: Australia would be wise not to hammer “war drums” on Taiwan with so many stakes
Is a conflict between Japan and China likely?
Japan is also concerned about increasingly assertive measures by China to expand its maritime reach and put more pressure on Japan’s Senkaku Islands, which are claimed by Beijing (as well as Taiwan) as the Diaoyu Islands.
Namely, Japan’s defense white paper notes the sharp increase in the number of Chinese Coast Guard vessels that have entered Japanese territorial waters since 2019, denouncing “Chinese attempts to unilaterally change the status quo through coercion.” . In addition, the Chinese coastguard is now empowered to use force against foreign ships under a new law passed this year.
Viewing the plight of Taiwan as part of a larger Chinese assertiveness scheme is surely a motivating factor behind Tokyo’s new declaration of interest in the Taiwan issue.
Nonetheless, it is important to stress that Japan is under no legal obligation to provide military assistance in a potential conflict over Taiwan. There are still strict legislative restrictions on the use of force firmly in place.
On the contrary, the defense white paper should be taken as a strong indication that Japan believes it cannot afford to sit idly by as the security environment in the Asia-Pacific continues to deteriorate. He therefore assumes greater responsibility for maintaining a rules-based order that he believes will bring stability and prosperity to this vibrant region.