TAIWAN: JAPAN MUST BE PREPARED FOR ALL CONTINGENGIES
“If I were prime minister, I would take action—including joint drills with our allies—to prepare for all contingencies. If there were to be a conflict over Taiwan, Japan’s security would also be affected. How would we protect our citizens in Taiwan? It’s not something we can ignore.”
So remarked Ms Sanae Takaichi, chair of the Policy Affairs Research Council of the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP), on November 12 on my regular Friday prime time “Genron” Internet TV news show. Among the questions I asked was how Japan should respond to the remarks by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on November 10 that the US and its allies would take action if China were to try to forcibly alter the status quo of Taiwan.
Taiwan holds unparalleled strategic importance to the Indo-Pacific and I believe the US is firmly determined to defend the self-governing island, which China views as a renegade state. But the US says it will not go it alone, intending to take action with its allies. Said Blinken: “There are many countries, both in the region and beyond, that would see any unilateral action to use force to disrupt the status quo as a significant threat to peace and security, and they too would take action in the event that that happens.” Japan obviously is on top of America’s list of allies Blinken has in mind. Takaichi had a clear-cut response to his call for joint action, adding:
“I really was pleasantly surprised when I heard Prime Minister Kishida mention ‘enemy base striking capabilities.’ It was reassuring to know that Mr. Kishida is seriously committed to defending Japan and working closely with friendly nations in a concerted effort for the peace and stability of this region.”
Takaichi stressed that Kishida’s serious commitment to take action is reflected in his readiness to implement an early review of Japan’s National Security Strategy, National Defense Program Guideline, and Midterm Defense Program—measures necessary to significantly bolster the capabilities of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF). She also had this to say about Taiwan: “It will be vitally important for Japan to continue working closely with the US to support the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen.”
I suppose Takaichi felt free to speak this directly because the LDP party platform had already been reviewed and approved by virtually all the party’s leaders. She brought to our Genron studio a copy of the platform with a large photo of Kishida printed on it and explained its content, reading out loud some of the LDP’s important pledges.
“In our platform, we have made a commitment to enforcing cooperation ‘with such nations as Australia, members of ASEAN and the EU, India, and Taiwan, revolving around the US-Japan alliance to further promote a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific.’ We have also pledged to support Taiwan in its application for membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, and participation as an observer in the World Health Organization.”
With these matters in mind, Takaichi expressed the hope to “put even one of these ideas into practice as expeditiously as possible. For that purpose, I am eagerly looking forward to having each of the LDP committees kick into full gear so that our party can make timely recommendations to the prime minister.”
Dubbed “Political Lunatic”
The US and Japan jointly supporting the Tsai administration in order to maintain the status quo over Taiwan is synonymous with helping safeguard Taiwan’s independence as a geopolitical reality in the region. The words of Takaichi as head of the party’s Policy Affairs Research Council carry weight; they also reflect how the world at large generally views Taiwan’s present status.
China has criticized the conservative lawmaker over the years, dubbing her a “political lunatic” in connection with her visits to Yasukuni Shrine and positions on other issues. China has also criticized her remarks on Taiwan as intolerable, claiming that they would embolden “forces advocating Taiwan’s independence.” But there is a legitimate reason why Takaichi emphasizes the need for both the Biden and Kishida administrations to buttress the Tsai administration.
Over the decades, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has spent tremendous resources on creating support among the Taiwanese people for reunification with the mainland. The CCP is taking full advantage of its military and economic might, combined with the nationalistic fervor of its 1.4 billion people to exert pressure on Taiwan’s 23 million people.
In Hong Kong, now under complete CCP control, democratic words and deeds have evaporated all too soon. Should Taiwan become a second Hong Kong, Taipei would quickly be forced to submit to Beijing’s National Defense Mobilization and National Intelligence laws. That would be a situation absolutely unacceptable to Japan, with its effects too abominable to contemplate. Takaich’s resolve to back the Tsai administration also clearly has the best interests of Japan in mind.
On November 9, a delegation of US lawmakers visited Taipei, following by three days a visit by a group of EU parliamentarians. The visits sent the message loud and clear to the world that Taiwan is not politically isolated and that it has friends. But military might is the ultimate measure mandatory to discourage Beijing from attempting to forcibly change the existing order. In the face-off pitting the US, Japan, and Taiwan against China, our side must keep the military balance of power in our favor to the best of our ability. Japan cannot accomplish this alone. Neither can the US. To stand face to face with China, it will be absolutely necessary for the US and Japan to cooperate with each other to the fullest extent possible.
Early last month, Chinese military aircraft intruded into the airspace over the Strait of Taiwan in formations simulating actual combat. Over five consecutive days starting October 1, the Chinese government sent as many as 150 aircraft into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ). These largest-ever formations did stoke anxiety among the Taiwanese, but our side did not sit idly by, as joint maneuvers were conducted in the Pacific in various combinations by Japan, the US, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and New Zealand. We have no need to fear the Chinese show of power.
Masahisa Sato, an upper house lawmaker and former parliamentary vice-minister for defense, was of the view that China has yet to become powerful enough to venture a successful invasion of Taiwan. He explained:
“It is important to consider a Chinese invasion of Taiwan in two segments: first, an invasion of the islands administered by Taiwan—for instance, the Spratly Islands or its off-shore islands like Quemoy and Mazu; and and second, an invasion of Taiwan proper. Assuming that Xi Jinping extends his term as president next year, China might be able to take control of the detached small islands during his next five years at the helm. But my guess is that China would still not be sufficiently prepared to invade the mainland of Taiwan.”
Preparing for all Contingencies
Xi has a lofty mountain to cross, as it were, in order to extend his term as president next fall. Some quarters view China’s invasion of Taiwan as possible precisely because Xi is defying precedent in seeking a third term. In order to gain domestic support for his ambition, this line of thinking goes, Xi will seek reunification with Taiwan—a great achievement even Mao Zedong failed to accomplish.
Meanwhile, there are also those who believe, as Sato pointed out, that China has yet to build sufficient military capabilities to invade Taiwan proper. There is some speculation that Xi will simultaneously seek to revive the post of CCP president. In order to successfully do this, however, he would have to manage domestic politics with extreme skill and caution. It might be too much to also try and take on an invasion of Taiwan at the same time.
If so, we may be able to buy time to make our best efforts to bolster our own national defense. Sato observed:
“Japan should naturally take action to help Taiwan if a contingency is foreseen, but the first thing we must do is save our fellow citizens who reside there. A threat to Taiwan is a threat to Japan. We must secure the proper means of protecting and evacuating the people of our outlying islands, including Yonaguni, Taketomi, Ishigaki, and Miyako. At this juncture, there is not enough infrastructure in place to effectively evacuate tens of thousands of residents in a short span of time. Because the ports in these islands are too small and the runways too short, it would be virtually impossible to respond effectively in such an emergency.”
China would attack the Okinawa islands without fail if a conflict should develop. In order to prevent China from taking control of the “First Island Chain” in the western Pacific, it is high time Japan deploy a sufficient number of JSDF troops and enhance military installations across key Okinawa islands. It is impossible to say when China might launch an attack on Taiwan, but I believe we will be able to deter China only when we come to grips with the fact that such an attack is a realistic possibility.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 976 in the November 25, 2021 issue of The Weekly Shincho)