JAPAN MUST BOLSTER DEFENSE CAPABILITIES TO FURTHER BACK TAIWAN
On June 4, an emergency shipment of 1.24 million doses of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine from Tokyo arrived at Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport. The vaccines are aimed at helping Japan’s island neighbor cope with its largest outbreak of infections since the pandemic began early last year.
“I am absolutely overwhelmed by how appreciative the people of Taiwan are,” remarked Akio Yaita, who heads the Taipei bureau of the conservative Sankei Shimbun. “I’ve been receiving an interminable flow of thank-you emails for the simple fact that I am from Japan.”
Having garnered international praise for successfully stemming the Wuhan virus initially, Taiwan has suddenly seen the pandemic flare up starting early last month, with only 800,000 doses of vaccine on hand available for its 23.6 million population. China quickly attempted to take advantage of the situation, announcing its readiness to provide a vaccine. This sweet offer is nothing but poisoned honey as far as most Taiwanese are concerned.
On May 18, the Chinese government declared through Xinhua News Agency, a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) media outlet, that it wishes to “help compatriots in Taiwan” and “remove the man-made political obstacles…to (safeguard) the life, health, and safety of our compatriots in Taiwan region.” Beijing referred to the Taiwanese as “compatriots” and the self-governing island of Taiwan as a “region”—words that explicitly position China as Taiwan’s motherland or ruler.
While China assumes a hierarchical posture in offering help to Taiwan, it hasn’t even bothered to release information on the vaccine it says it is ready to offer. Beijing claims Chinese vaccines are safe on the grounds that they satisfy the standard of its Health Ministry. But the technologically advanced nations see it differently, and the Taiwanese government can hardly gamble the health and lives of Taiwanese on such a slipshod means of inoculation.
As most of us are well aware, China has declared to the world that it will absolutely oppose Taiwan’s independence and will be going all out to accomplish a unification with Taiwan by force if necessary. If Taiwan were to rely on China for vaccine this time, it would easily fall into a “vaccine trap” set by the CCP to put the island under its control.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has every reason to reject Beijing’s overtures. While shunning Chinese vaccines, Tsai has managed with full force to contractually secure more than 30 million doses of Western vaccine via multiple routes. But none of them has yet been delivered because of Beijing’s obstructions.
Working closely with Taiwan, Japan and the US have managed to work out a secret plan to save Taiwan from this predicament. Until the Japan Airlines flight departed with the vaccines aboard, none of those responsible acknowledged the operation in progress, giving Beijing no chance of interference before delivering the coveted vaccines to Taiwan. By coincidence or by intention, the vaccines were delivered on the day marking the 32nd anniversary of the bloody Tiananmen Massacre.
Reciprocating Decade-Old Friendship
The swift Japanese assistance has more meaning than just a gesture on the part of Japan to help with Taiwan’s critical vaccine shortage, explained Yaita, asserting:
“The people in Taiwan had been feeling increasingly isolated emotionally, as well. The vaccines from Japan arrived in the nick of time, as China had relentlessly exerted pressure on Taiwan which seriously lacked medical supplies, not to mention vaccines, which made many people grow increasingly insecure about whether their nation could withstand the pressure any longer. I firmly believe that the shipment gave the Taiwan people a chance to get back on their feet with bolstered courage. Needless to say, the vaccines are very much appreciated, but what is far more significant, I believe, is the fact that our gift has truly exhilarated the people here.”
On May 31, Xi Jinping delivered an address to the CCP’s Politburo concerning China’s need to create a “lovable” global image. The address struck one as different from the ones he ordinarily is expected to make. Xi remarked:
“China needs to improve the way it tells the world stories about itself and convince the people that (the CCP) is striving for the happiness of all Chinese people. Efforts (must be made) to introduce the Chinese culture abroad and strive to shape a reliable, admirable, and respectable image of China. We shall … be both open and confident as well as humble and modest, and strive to create a credible, loveable, and respectable image of China.”
Human rights suppression, debt traps, wolf warrior diplomacy…I assume Xi realizes how much China is detested across the globe for these and many other misdeeds. That is why he urged party leaders to create a lovable image of China. But China can hardly implement “lovable diplomacy” when it has made—and will undoubtedly continue to make—every effort to hinder Taiwan from obtaining vaccines, on which the lives of Taiwanese depend.
On June 6, the US pledged to provide Taiwan 750,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine through three visiting US senators, including Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth. But the vaccines will be sent through COVAX, a UN-backed framework to distribute vaccines to low and middle-income nations—a measure too time-consuming to meet Taiwan’s immediate needs. The decision Japan made to deliver the vaccines was truly meaningful.
Although Japan has belatedly started rolling out its national vaccination drive, the vaccine has yet to reach all senior citizens over 65 years old. And yet most Japanese take it for granted that Japan should definitely help Taiwan with vaccines because they know Japan owes much to its friends in Taiwan. Recalled Itsunori Onodera, who hails from Miyagi Prefecture, which sustained devastating tsunami damage along Japan’s northern Pacific coast in March 2011:
“The township of Minami Sanriku-cho was ravaged. Tidal waves whisked away the whole of Shizugawa Hospital, the only hospital in the town, killing nearly 80 of its patients and staff. The people of Taiwan came to our aid, sending us a cash gift of \2.22 billion (US$29 million) in 2015. A new hospital has been built by adding \33.6 million (US$35 million) from the central and local governments. Named Minami Sanriku Hospital, it is now functioning as a much prized local medical center.”
Onodera stressed that people in the affected area along the wide stretch of the northeastern Pacific coast clearly remember the friendship they received from the people of Taiwan a decade ago. Furthermore, Keiji Furuya, a senior member of the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party, stressed that Japanese never forget the wholehearted support Taiwanese gave them when the coronavirus pandemic broke out in Japan early last year, recalling:
“Last April Japan was up against a very difficult situation when the pandemic broke out, with face masks, protective clothing, and everything else in short supply. Thanks to the timely decision President Tsai made then, N95 surgical masks and 50,000 protective suits were air-freighted to Japan. This gesture of friendship showed by Taiwanese enabled us to immediately distribute the relief goods among medical institutions designated for specific infectious diseases and special support schools across the nation.”
National Defense Budget Smaller Than South Korea’s
By donating vaccines to Taiwan this time, Japan wanted to return the many favors extended to it over the years. It also is in Japan’s national interests to be on good terms with Taiwan. While yearning to be “loved and respected,” China mercilessly suppresses nations, peoples, and individuals who do not follow its directives. We in the democratic world must sufficiently enrich our national resources to prevent China from running wild. That will be a tall order for any nation alone. It needs scarcely be said that we must coordinate closely with as many like-minded nations as possible to accomplish that mission. In particular, Japan and the US must demonstrate by our action to those Southeast Asian nations, bullied by a sinister hegemon into a posture of ambiguousness or silence, that we are committed to coming to their aid whenever they are faced with national crises. In that vein, our donation of the vaccines to Taiwan was exactly what was called for in these circumstances.
The crucial question now is how to safeguard peace and security across the Taiwan Strait. In his summit with President Biden at the White House in April, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga made clear Japan’s commitment to preserving the peace and stability of the Strait. It is time for Japan to show how it plans to put that promise into practice. Onodera had this to say:
“Japan must bolster its defense capabilities more than anything else, but the Defense Ministry has been reluctant to make that commitment. Perhaps it cannot be helped as our ‘peace constitution’ has for so long prevented us from recognizing the significance of full-fledged national defense as a normal democracy. All the more reason for our politicians today to formulate powerful plans to solidify our national defense strategy.”
I believe it mandatory for Japan to eventually increase its annual defense expenditure to 2% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) from the current 0.9%. But military experts agree it would be difficult to double the number suddenly. These experts, including Onodera, have pledged to first aim for 1.5% over the next few years. Japan’s total annual defense spending has been fast getting smaller than that of South Korea. To rectify this situation, Japan must safeguard the stability and security of the entire Asian region, including the Strait of Taiwan, by significantly boosting our defense spending.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 954 in the June 17, 2021 issue of The Weekly Shincho)